Reading experiences of other people affected by their parent’s drinking helps you to know you are not alone.
Hearing how other people felt as children and as adults can help us make sense of our own experiences. Whilst every family is unique, many families affected by alcohol problems face similar issues.
There are lots of personal stories in the followings sections. Why not try reading a few and perhaps come back another time to read some more? Remember you can always talk to Nacoa about what’s going on for you and your feelings and memories.
You may also find it cathartic to write about your own experiences. If you would like to contribute your experience for others to read, please email Hilary Henriques.
Keeping secrets and feeling isolated and alone
+- Schools closing early (Tanisha)
For some kids, schools closing early due to coronavirus equates to an extended summer holiday, but for those with alcoholic parents, it’s nothing but dread knowing that their safe space, their escape, is being cut off.
The children who go home to alcoholic parents every day are the ones who will be feeling a sense of despair in the pits of their stomachs, thinking that there’s no escape during the day.
If that child or teenager is you, I know how you feel. I promise. My mum was/is an alcoholic, and although I’m older than school age now, I looked forward to going to school each day. I was the one who signed up to after school events just to prolong the time from going home to my mum inevitably being passed out on the sofa. So now that school is closed, I know you’ll be dreading the extra time at home if your alcoholic parent is also there.
A few things I did when I was home to distract myself from the situation going on downstairs that might also help you, are below, along with some other tips:
Write plays with your brother or sister: No it doesn’t involve technology, but it really is fun. I had a little brother who I tried to protect and keep away from where my mum would be drinking, or passed out. We’d go upstairs and make up a story, then write a script for our play and act it out as though we were in a soap opera. It’d keep us occupied and entertained for ages. We’d be conscious of being too loud though! This is a great thing to do if you have a much younger sibling that you need to distract but want to engage with.
Write a story or keep a diary: When I was a kid, we had a very slow internet connection and no laptops, so I would write down all my thoughts and feelings on paper. If you have a laptop then you can type up instead. I used to make up stories of the life I wanted, and I’d also write about the life I had. And you know what? When I went to college I studied Journalism and my final major project was to write the beginning of a book. I used the stories I wrote when I was stuck at home and upset with my mum drinking, as the basis for my project. I got a distinction and didn’t even have to do any research because it was all based on what I had been through. I then went onto University to study Journalism and I’m now writing a book for children on living with an alcoholic parent, all alongside my day job. I worked really hard at school so that I could be successful and get away from having to live with my drunk mum, and it worked. So, remember that good things can come out of your horrible situations. It won’t always be like this.
Visualise: When you’re going through something horrible and all you can think about is not wanting to be in this situation but having no way out, close your eyes and think about the future you want. There’s a good tip used by professionals which is to cross your arms and stroke your upper arms while thinking of a time you were at your absolute happiest. Well, this also works if you think about what your dream future would look like.
Another tip to combat anxiety is to hold your hand to your heart and take 3 deep breaths, close your eyes and think of a time you were really happy.
Learn: It may seem boring, having to learn at home when you’re off school, but it’s also really important. Learning something new by watching learning channels on YouTube and making sure you’re really clever will mean you’ll get ahead at school and this will enable your future opportunities in the work place. Trust me, if I did it then you can too. Use your frustrations and emotions of being let down, as fuel to do better and come out stronger. Don’t blame yourself for how your parent is behaving, it is not your fault. I thought it was mine when I was your age, I thought my mum loved wine more than she loved me, now that I’m older I realise it’s an illness, but that didn’t stop me from blaming myself.
Play: playing Xbox and PlayStation online with your mates will keep you from feeling so alone during isolation, and ensure you’re still in touch with your mates.
I really hope some of these tips work, and remember NACOA are here to help if you ever want to chat.
All my best,
+- Both of my parents are alcoholics (Gemma)
My name is Gemma and both my parents are alcoholics. Growing up I never had a responsible adult to look up to I had to find my own way I lived in fear not knowing which mum or dad I was getting every day and I rarely slept due to the constant arguments, sometimes the mental abuse was worse than the physical it felt like they fed off our fears. I tiptoed around my parents afraid to say or do the wrong thing even if I was hungry I dare ask incase I triggered a reaction. Once we were locked in the house and fought over a bag of sugar that was a particularly low point for me I struggled with my emotions and often thought about ending it but the thought of leaving my siblings to endure it alone stopped me I had become a parent figure to them and they needed me.
When they drank it was a waiting game to see who they would target, I often felt guilty when it wasn’t me. We lied and hid the truth about our bruises to everyone, alcohol came before anything else going without gas and electric so they could drink was normal, we were often alone I awoke one night to find the house empty doors open and a fire in the kitchen we were utterly terrified all the time, I never knew a good nights sleep.
I moved out in my twenties and reported them to the authorities I felt safe knowing they couldn’t punish me for telling anyone, they still continued to drink. I had to think of my own future and health so cut my parents off the trauma I’ve experienced at their hands has given me anxiety around people drinking as an adult watching people’s personality change triggers a response in me. I don’t think I’ll ever fully forget what I went through but as the years pass it fades. I have a supportive partner by my side and we live a happy life creating wonderful memories, he’s made me see the world differently. I hope sharing my story will help anyone who is experiencing this now or in the past, in that moment you might feel alone but you’re not.
+- What would have helped me when I was a child? (Mary)
I’m middle aged now, I have a sister. Our parents broke up when I was three and Mum remarried. Mum and our stepfather who we lived with drank heavily. Childhood was not knowing what I’d be coming home too, insecurity, would Mum be drunk and depressed.
I remember going to the birthday party of a friend at primary school but I couldn’t invite anyone to my house as they’d be shocked, and I’d be embarrassed by the mess and I wouldn’t know what state Mum would be in, I couldn’t tell anyone about it either. For a while Mum stayed sober but then for no reason started drinking again. I felt isolated, lonely, that I didn’t matter, and that life had to be better than this. School and the things that other kids were interested in like clothes and makeup seemed trivial compared to what was going on at home. Sadly, Mum didn’t decide to get help with her alcoholism and tragically she died from it at a young age. What a waste of what could have been. My stepfather died a few years after Mum. I remember Mum as being talented, although she couldn’t read music she could play the piano well. Unfortunately Mum tended to play when she was drunk and low, so if you heard the piano when you came home, it was a sign that all was not well!
I was lucky enough to get away in my early twenties, and start to try and build my own life. Many years of counselling enabled me to come to terms with my upbringing, although I still felt guilty talking about it, as if I was betraying my Mum.
There are things I still do like keep on trying long after others would have given up, sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it’s not. Childhood experiences, have given me the resilience to get through some challenging times, and helped make me the person I am today, for which I’m grateful.
What would have helped me when I was a child that helps children of alcoholics today?
Hearing that the support of Nacoa was available, and finding out details of where to call to speak to a neutral person would have helped me.
+- Finding Nacoa and making the decision to fundraise in the way I did has been truly life-changing for me. I feel I am on this path now, I have no idea where it’s going but I’m staying on it My Journey Part 3 – I become present in the room at last! (Laura)
In black and white, I’ve been sober for almost 7 out of the 9 months of this year to date… and the 2 months I drank were the most difficult. Now throughout my life I’ve made a lot of
ill-advised, poor choices for skewiff priorities…but I’m not an idiot. This is really basic – alcohol is not my friend. Having seen and experienced both sides of this I’m in a position where I can see that drinking doesn’t serve me; the cons outweigh the pros for days. Enough. It’s a shame it’s taken me this long to figure it out but I’m there or rather HERE now. Present, in my body and in the room at last. After 2 months off the wagon the only thing I’d really gained was weight and my mental health had dramatically deteriorated. What was once the norm of extreme highs and extreme lows – post 6 months of (albeit emotional) clarity – is just no longer acceptable. It’s just not good enough.
Having inspired a close friend who’d been feeling trapped in her boozey ways for at least a decade to finally knock -it; we agreed to support each other on our sober quest living on possibly the least sober place on earth. With a lot of feedback from my latest vlog I realised many in our little island community were facing similar problems. We decided to create an informal Ibiza support group for like-minded islanders called Raise the Bar Ibiza. (Come Down with me was a close second choice!) I’m really enjoying this venture and the weekly podcasts we make after each session. I’m also able to appreciate the benefits of sobriety this time around. With no set date in mind and no rules to rebel against – If I really want a drink I’ll just have one and of course with that being the case… I rarely want one. I’ve had multiple sober nights out in Ibiza over the closing parties and a couple of not so sober nights out and both were fun. It’s good to know I can still live on this hedonistic island without being inebriated… it’s also good to know that I can dip my toe in occasionally without diving head first back into that way of life.
I’ve started a youtube channel cataloging this rollercoaster and my musings on being a COA and figuring out how to live on this hedonistic island without losing my head. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8r35_WqI8DYheUHarSV3ow
I’m so so grateful that i found Nacoa. It’s a shame I didn’t find them earlier, but I have now and it has genuinely been life-changing. I’m honoured to have been able to contribute to help fund the incredible work this completely donation based charity does. I really hope I can continue to be of use to them in the future.
They’ve helped me realise (along with Josh Connolly – Nacoa’s ambassador’s coaisathing.com) that being a COA – the child of an alcoholic is indeed a thing! I have all of those personality traits and struggles. But that’s alright; because I’m not alone; and I want to spread Nacoa’s message to all COAs… you are not alone.
Keeping secrets and feeling isolated and alone
+- I need to get in contact with someone (Lauren)
I’m making my daily commute home and I don’t know why today is different from other days but today I feel like I need to get in contact with someone. To get advice or help, to share my story with hopefully someone that can relate and maybe myself be able to eventually help others in my situation.
My mum was an alcoholic. She passed away February 2017. To say that it was a shock is maybe a lie as the life style she led was so detrimental to her health but no-one can prepare you for the death of your own mum.
A freezing cold Sunday afternoon, I had the flu so was watching a film in bed. My phone rang and it was my mum’s husband…he said ”Lauren, you better get down here… They are trying to revive her but it’s not looking good”… the sentence repeats itself, over and over.
My partner and I only live a 10 minute drive and he grabbed the keys and drove us to her house. With my mum, there is always and always has been a series of exaggerated stories, so although rushing and shaking like a leaf, I half didn’t believe what I had been told. Sure enough there were two ambulances and a team of paramedics, I watched her slip away, or maybe she was already gone. They told me that they would stop the CPR if I would agree but I asked them to take her to hospital to keep trying. I couldn’t bare the idea of her dying on that dirty living room floor surrounded by alcohol and cigarette ash. She was 55, she was my mum and I loved her.
My mum had been an alcoholic for nearly my whole life. I’m 28 and it became big problem at 11 years old which only got worse as time went by.
She was the life and soul, so vibrant, she had friends, family – married my Dad at 24 and had me at 28, and we had a good life. She gave up her career as a high flying PA to work as a Secretary in a school to suit having a young child and my dad worked hard as sales manager. We were fortunate to have holidays abroad, my mum had a life that a lot of people strive for. I noticed her drinking would often get out of control at parties and maybe that’s how it started. Eventually her behaviour when she had had a drink started to affect my parents relationship (I’m sure amongst other grown up things, which I wasn’t aware of.) This marked the end of her life (and mine) as she knew it, she met an old friend that taught at one of the schools she had worked at. He soon became her boyfriend, my childhood home was up for sale and she had moved us into his.
Her drinking was secretly out of control, she’d hide vodka, whiskey, wine in the cupboards of the new house. She lost her job, had a car crash (drunk) and would regularly pass out in the house. I would get home from school (aged 12) and have to wake her up from the floor to get her into bed. This was regular and also a secret, my secret to protect my mum.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work out with her new boyfriend and we were soon ushered on, we moved into my grandparents whilst they helped try and get her back on her feet.
I saw my dad 4 nights a week. I was so close to him but I lied to him, I lied to everyone, I said mum was fine. She was so far from it. I don’t think my grandparents knew the half it despite us living with them. One day I caught her trying to overdose using anti-depressants…I desperately urged her to drink water and to be sick. The threats of suicide would carry on for years. She had lost her job, her marriage, her boyfriend but now it was time for a fresh start.
Mum still had the money from the divorce and the sale of the house from Dad, so she used this for a deposit for a 2 bedroom terraced house. I was 13 years old and desperately wanted to believe that this was the excuse she needed to turn her life around. She managed to get a new job working in Morrisons and found it hard to fit in. We were now living in a different area and I would walk mainly alone to school. I had friends, I desperately didn’t want to seem any different from my peers but this would be hard to invite them to mine. I would beg and make mum promise not to drink if I had them over. Normally it wouldn’t work but she would take herself to bed with her wine and I would make the excuse of her being tired and most of the time managed to pass it off. I think. Most children love Christmas but I dreaded it. It meant one thing- Alcohol. My mum once fell asleep face down in her Xmas dinner, it was just the two of us, I cried, it was a disaster.
The worst was yet to come, unfortunately. My mum then met John, at a pub. John was and is a loser. John had nothing. Financially or morally. He didn’t have assets or a job but he saw my mum as an opportunity. He quickly moved in, my mum trying to support the 3 of us on minimum wage (with child support from my dad) and an alcohol addiction. He was essentially her drinking buddy and enabler. He encouraged her to drink, get into debt and basically used her for his gain. In the summer months I would wake up and would be horrified to see them drinking wine in the garden. I would shout and cry at them both. What was he doing to my beautiful, fun and clever mum? What was she becoming? He was her green flag to drink all day and all night. They would fall asleep with the TV blaring. I will never forget how most nights I would be woken in the night by their TV and I would creep in and turn it off. They argued most nights too, violently. My mum would call the police on him, there was violence on both sides. Promises of breakups and him being kicked out were not kept and he was always back.
Whilst this was going on my dad had met someone new. She was moving about 60 miles out and my dad decided to follow his heart and move with her. He had no idea of the severity of my problems at home but now my only way out of this madness was taken away. I waited for my weekend visit which now happened every other Friday. Dad would pick me up from home and we’d drive the hour to his. Of all the things we spoke about, I didn’t mention it once. Did the adults know about my mum and ignore it…I don’t know. Looking at this now as an adult I think to myself, of course they must of knew but did they want to address the problem? No one was shouting for help, so to a degree it got swept under the carpet, unfortunately sweeping me with it.
I was at a mischievous age, cautioned for stealing, smoking weed with friends and staying out all night drinking aged14/15. Although this seems ‘off the rails’ I wasn’t much different from my friends with strict parents, it was just my mum was easier to fool. But nevertheless it was an influential point in my life and I could have gone a bad way. Luckily I met a boy, an older boy but he was a good person with a good family. He was naive, also careless, immature but steered me away from hanging out with bad people and spending my time on the streets. He was my outlet and my way out.
I remember one night, I could hear their TV blaring, I was so desperately unhappy. I looked up at the stars out of my window and cried and cried. Wishing and praying for a different life. At 17 I dropped out of 6th form, gave my mum and ultimatum to give up drinking or she would lose me forever… Who was I kidding, she was always going to choose alcohol. I knew how much she loved me but she was in total denial. I told my dad I didn’t want to live with my mum anymore and I moved in with my Dad and stepmum, away from every one I knew. This didn’t last too long, I clashed with them I was 18 and headstrong, used to being able to do what I wanted, when I wanted. I was also damaged, something I don’t think they understood or knew how to handle. What they didn’t realise was I was desperate to please.
This is something I recognise I do now, I have a heightened sensitivity to people’s emotions, I hate anyone feeling unhappy or unsatisfied and I am always worried of anyone’s opinion of me, scared to disappoint. After a year of Dad and Jan I moved again and rented a room and then again back to my home town and with much persuasion into my grandparents home. I managed to get quite a good job and saved hard. With all my money I travelled the world, finally I had left it all behind and I felt free and happy. I wrote postcards to my mum and letters asking to her to keep well but for the first time I felt free of responsibility or guilt.
Eventually the money and the visas ran out and at 25 years old I returned back to England and my grandparents.
In this time, I’ve once again I’ve got my life back together, met my boyfriend and we’ve bought our flat.
It was only in the last couple of years I felt I could put aside my hurt my mum caused me and could recognise how much of a mess she was in. It killed me. I wished with all my heart I could have helped her. So much guilt. Anger that I let her husband suck everything out of her. I love her, I miss her, I miss my beautiful mum.
I used to think I was a success story of an alcoholic, coming from an dysfunctional life to the functional life I lead now. But I’ve learnt there is absolutely no success stories from growing up with an alcoholic parent, it rips a hole in your heart and I feel like constant plasters have to be applied to keep me afloat. Our parents are victims of the alcohol and we are victims of them. No one gets off free. The guilt, the sadness, the what if’s. Also the sense of feeling that you don’t need anyone to help you, you don’t need to be saved from anything and you can do everything on your own. I’ve learnt to be so self sufficient I almost feel it can be damaging to my relationships around me. It’s tough.
That’s where I am now… This hasn’t been written on a commute home. It started on a commute home about 6 months ago. It’s so painful that I’ve had to keep coming back to it but feel determined to get it sent. Losing my mum was hard enough but as an alcoholic too, her husband wasn’t capable. When she passed my grandparents paid for and I organised the entire funeral. As much as I had distaste for her husband, he told me his own children didn’t have much to do with him, so I really tried to look after him too. After some months, his family soon worked out he was entitled to her property, I received a legal letter threatening me to never contact him again. My mum sadly had no will and her house she once worked so hard for has passed to him. The promises he made to do the right thing by her are now lost and the only contact I have with him now is with his solicitor to administer the estate (to him). He has turned out to be more caperable than I ever knew. My mum would be so sad and so angry… but really It is the ultimate sad legacy of growing up with an alcoholic parent.
Nothing will ever take away the love I have for my mum but I hope one day I might be able to help others in my situation. This is why I am contacting NACOA today. I would like to share my story for the first time and also I would like to be able to help/volunteer.
+- I would hide the fact she drank like it was a dark secret and I never really opened up about it to anyone, as I got older I leaned on friends to help me cope. (Monica)
I am 37 years old and an only child. For as long as I can remember my Mam has been an alcoholic.
My earliest memory is going with my Dad in the car to pick her up from a night out and she was falling over and sick out of the car door. I thought it was just a one off. But as time went on she didn’t need to go out to get drunk.
She didn’t drink all the time, just now and again something would set her off and she would retreat to her bedroom for two or three weeks only leaving to shout abuse at me and my Dad or to go to the shops for more alcohol. She drank constantly during that time and I would find empty bottles everywhere. I used to fill half full ones with vinegar, pour them down the sink and even hide her keys and purse to stop her buying more. Nothing worked.
It was like living with Jekyll and Hyde. When she was sober she was lovely and when she was drunk she was awful!
I was blackmailed with toys as a child not to tell my Dad she had bought alcohol when we were out shopping, I told him anyway.
My Dad and her argued constantly and I begged him to leave her but he wouldn’t. Life at home was hell most of the time and happy memories are few and far between. I could tell if she had been drinking just by looking at the house from the outside and then as soon as I walked in and the fumes hit me I knew. I spent a lot of childhood in my room alone or out with friends to hide from her, I wasn’t a bad child and didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol I was just a normal teenager.
She told me all the time that I wasn’t wanted and that she hated me! Instead of supporting me on my achievements such as buying a car, a house, getting a degree she used them as reasons to get drunk because she couldn’t cope with me growing up!
She embarrassed me in front of my friends all the time and would come find me when I was out with them and scream and shout at me. I would hide the fact she drank like it was a dark secret and I never really opened up about it to anyone, as I got older I leaned on friends to help me cope.
Christmas and my birthday were close together and she was always drunk. As a result I hated Christmas and my Birthday as a child and still do.
I moved out at 14 to live with my Aunty as I couldn’t cope, then at 16 I moved in to a flat with friends but after assurances from her that she would try and stop I moved back at 18. At 21 I bought my own house and moved out for good. I felt guilty for leaving my Dad to deal with it all but I had no choice I had to get out.
Nothing I ever did was good enough for her and I never had her love.
She refused to accept she had a problem no matter what me and my Dad did she wouldn’t accept help and said she was in control, until the next time. Each time she drank she was awful to us both but when she sobered up she apologized and it was forgotten. Never dealt with. The longest I have known her not have a drink for is a year and she was great.
She ruined my wedding day, my children’s christenings and every birthday I can remember. Then when my marriage broke down she made my life hell for over a year blaming me for it and drinking none stop hurling abuse at me down the phone.
I have been through so much more, more than I can ever explain to anyone and more than I can probably remember.
On New Year’s Day this year I had it out with her. I told her everything she had put me through and how I felt about it all. Screaming out for an apology or an acknowledgement of her wrong doings but nothing, she refused to believe everything I said. All I got was blamed for it and I was the reason she drank. To me that was it, the last time I would ever tell her what she did, I realised then there was no point I would never get the closure I needed from her so I had to fix myself.
I tried to cut her off after that and for 6 months I did and life was easier but I missed my Mam and therefore again I gave her another chance.
These past few months since we have been back in touch things have changed dramatically, she has gone from this woman I knew who took no crap and was opinionated and headstrong to a frail old lady with memory loss and the inability to process information I am telling her. It’s like she aged overnight but the drinking has all but stopped.
The change in her has been surreal and is something I am struggling to deal with after knowing the person she was and the way she treated me my whole life! How can I continue to hold on to this anger I have at her for ruining my childhood when she can barely remember it.
The relationship I wanted was a Mam and daughter but I never had it. I struggle with relationships with partners and friends because of my need to feel loved, something I have not felt from my parents.
I have never dealt with what I went through as a child and have fought to be different and strong but lately I feel that my past is holding me back and I need to talk about it and process it all in order to move forward.
My kids don’t know the things I have gone through and I refuse to ever tell them. I will not let them look at her in a different way nor do I want them to look at me differently. I have protected them from it and will always do so. I have fought to be everything to my kids that she wasn’t to me and I have broken the cycle.
I wish I had spoken more openly about this years ago and come to terms with it all and now as an adult I feel like I need to ‘get over it’ which is easier said than done.
Feeling different from other people and guessing what normal is
+- How alcohol has impacted my personal and family life (Helen)
Alcohol has had a massive impact on my personal and family life. I am a 38 year old mother of two, whose mother was an alcoholic. She died of final stage liver cirrhosis in 2017, aged 67.
Although my mother had been a low-level drinker when I was a younger child, the full impact of her addiction hit my sister and I when we entered our teens. We suffered several years of emotional abuse and neglect as the amount of alcohol she consumed and the type became more serious. My mother was what you might call a secret alcoholic. She never went to the pub or drank publicly, it was all done behind closed doors at home. This meant that other people, within the family and in the wider community had no idea what home life was like for us. My father left when I was around 13 years old, leaving us to fend for ourselves. As the years went on, things got much worse. Our house fell into a state of disrepair and mother allowed her many cats to wee all over the floors and worktops and destroy the furniture and carpets.
My sister and I were subjected to nightly tirades of abuse and bullying and often left to pick up the pieces after she had passed out. The impact upon us was massive. I regularly felt so helpless and upset that I wished I didn’t exist. My sister, who was 3 years younger than me, self-harmed. On several occasions we tried to run away from home, but didn’t know where to go, got scared and came home. We reached out to our grandparents and even Childline, but were told to go home. I grew up not knowing what it was to be loved and accepted unconditionally. Home was not a place of safety and sanctuary, but a place to hear feared and avoided if possible. My sister and I both got out as soon as we could, aged 15 and 18. I went to University and never came back and my sister moved away with an older boyfriend.
The impact of having an alcoholic parent is that you just aren’t supported and nurtured in a way that prepares you for adulthood. You are also left with multiple problems as a result of the abuse you suffered and in a position where you have to work through damaging behaviours you have developed to cope in the outside world and in other relationships.
As a consequence I have spent my adult life battling through periods of anxiety, panic and depression. I had a nervous breakdown when I was 27 and a secondary slightly less severe breakdown again at aged 31. Despite all this I have actually managed to become a fairly high-functioning and successful professional, but in my personal life I am plagued by issues of low-self-esteem, co-dependency and associated behaviours.
I have had years of therapy, mostly privately funded and am still on a massive ongoing process of self-development and healing. My mother nearly died in 2001 as a result of her alcohol abuse. After a long period in hospital she did recover and went on to have a further 15 years of life, sober. Although she wasn’t drinking anymore, she was left with various physical and mental health problems as a result of her addiction and she eventually died of final stage liver cirrhosis in 2017. My relationship with her remained very strained and dysfunctional most of the time.
I cannot stress enough that growing up with a parent who is alcoholic is something that causes lasting serious effects and damage to the children involved. I believe the trauma I suffered as a child went on to effect the level of serotonin produced by my brain as an adult. After having the first breakdown I was prescribed serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for my recurrent anxiety and depression. Despite nutritional therapy, training as a yoga teacher, meditation, relaxation practices and natural remedies, my various attempts to stop taking the pills have been unsuccessful. It seems to me that my experiences had such an impact on me during crucial periods of development that my brain is simply not able to resource itself properly.
+- My name is X and I am an adult child of an alcoholic (Anon)
Do you notice that even in 2019, I can’t bring myself to put my real name in that sentence, to say it out loud or to put it in print. Why? Shame, fear of upsetting my family and if I am brutally honest the sense that people will say ‘ah – that’s why …’
I am 45 years old, female, happily married for 19 years, mother of two wonderful teenagers and in a job I love. So, on the face of it nothing is wrong with me – however …. I can’t smell whiskey without becoming extremely anxious, the smell of old red wine makes me nauseous, and Guinness – well that to me is the drink of the alcoholic. If anyone near me starts drinking, or is drinking alcohol, I panic – what are they drinking? How much are they drinking? When will their personality change? When will they be intoxicated? When will the fun stop? When will they start saying inappropriate things? When will they start to embarrass me? When will an enjoyable evening end in disaster and shame? Because it will – it always does.
Please don’t buy me or my husband alcohol for a present. I can’t bear it. The panic starts as soon as I see the neck of the bottle as the unwrapping begins. It does not matter whether it is gin, wine, whisky, whatever – all I know is that it spells doom. It means for a terrible evening of shame, disappointment and ruin. The worst thing is that I don’t know when. I will never know when this will happen until after it has been opened and drunk. I will be in a constant state of anxiety until either it has been thrown away or drunk.
Always preferable, is the first option but this is not always possible. The person who has given us the present has spent a lot of money on this gift, they expect it to be enjoyed and they expect to hear tales of a wonderful evening enhanced by this gift, but for me that will never happen. It will be an evening where I will have to leave the room or, even better, not be in the same place and even better not know that it is being consumed in the first place – as long as I am about a country distance away and don’t smell it the next morning.
I want to be normal. I want to be that person who can enjoy a glass of wine with her meal on a Saturday evening. I want to be the person who is completely comfortable sitting in a pub or a restaurant where other people are drinking, or the person who can go to a festival and not furtively glance around constantly to check that nobody under the influence is anywhere near. Believe me I have tried but the fear is constant. What if I say something wrong? What if I smell like that? What if I ruin someone’s evening? What if? What If?…
So how did it start? I don’t know how it started but it has always been a presence in my life. Even though my alcoholic parent no longer drinks alcohol (see I can’t even risk telling you which one it is) the effects have not stopped. All I can tell you is what I remember …
I remember knowing that after 11am they were a different person. I remember the shouting and screaming in the house. I remember finding bottles of alcohol in weird and wonderful places (most often in the garden). I remember the other parent pouring bottles of alcohol down the kitchen sink. I remember knowing that after 11am on holiday they wouldn’t play in the pool. I remember that at family dinners once they started putting their head in their hands’ the dinner and the evening was over. I remember the shouting on the plane if I even knocked their drink slightly. I remember having to leave Disneyworld at lunchtime every day during our holiday and come back in the evening because ‘it was too hot’ aka ‘they did not serve alcohol at Disney’. I remember them having to go to bed in the afternoon because they were tired. I remember lunches in smoke filled pubs rather than our pleas to eat in Mcdonalds. I remember people saying ‘oh yes your X likes a drink but they are still a good X’.
I don’t remember hugs. I don’t remember affection. I don’t remember talking. I don’t remember love.
That was then – what about now? Nothing, nothing has changed. They might not drink anymore but they still don’t talk. They still don’t hug. They still don’t show affection. There is no love.
One of the most heart-breaking things in my life is not all the events of the past. All those little things that created a childhood of fear and anxiety, but the now. The fact that the magical transformation to loving, affectionate parent and grandparent when they stopped drinking never happened. They didn’t suddenly become interested in me and my children.
They didn’t suddenly show love towards me and my children. No, they remained the same selfish self-centred individual they had always been. It wasn’t ‘the drink talking’, it was actually who they are. For forty years I had coped with my world clinging to the belief that when they stopped drinking it would all change. It didn’t.
I am a broken individual and I have been for a very long time. Thankfully organisations such as the National Association for Children of Alcoholics have helped me realise that my childhood was not normal. It wasn’t my fault that they showed no affection and love. They have made me realise that I am broken but it is not my fault.
It is not my fault that I am overly controlling because I have to have some control over events. It is not my fault that I have a deep distrust of anyone who is drinking alcohol because people who drink alcohol are unpredictable and can change at a moment’s notice. It is not my fault that I abhor drinking before the evening (the later the better) because that way the person stays nicer for longer. It is not my fault that my children only have one functioning grandparent.
So please don’t look at me quizzically when I ask for a soft drink when offered a glass of wine. Please don’t ask me again the next time and the next time and time after that. Please don’t ask me if I am going to the Christmas do for the umpteenth year in a row when I have missed all the previous ones. Please don’t ask to meet in a pub when a café is available. Please don’t arrange any surprise anything.
My name is X, I am a child of an alcoholic and I need to have control because for so long I had none.
+- There is a way (Orielle)
As far back as I can remember there has always been unhealthy relationships with alcohol in my family. My mum’s family had a number of alcoholics and mum had a habit of getting too drunk at parties. Mum has always been what I would describe as functioning- she seemed to be able to stop drinking when she wanted and didn’t ‘need’ to drink every day- this has always made it harder for me to accept her choices of alcohol over me and the family.
Mum’s drinking escalated when I was around 10 and started getting serious, drinking every day. She was a lovey kind, caring person when sober but with alcohol she was the opposite- real Jekyll and Hyde person. She was abusive, violent, my sister and I took on more responsibilities physically and emotionally than we should off at that age. Mum wouldn’t remember anything and I don’t think believed she did half the things she did when drunk. There was so much stuff that was hushed and not spoken about as if it was the norm and we all just cracked on living day to day. My dad was great and did the best he could at the time, but really don’t think he knew how to support mum or handle it either. Mum moved out following a particular incident and I thought everything would be better, peaceful and easier, but I found the most challenging times has been since then. I do feel some sadness that when I remember my childhood it’s mainly the drinking that I remember and not the other times before then.
For so many years it was a very challenging, difficult and draining relationship. The typical child/parent relationship did not exist, it felt in reverse and I really wasn’t equipped to cope. She rapidly spiralled with her drinking when she moved out, there was years of me trying to maintain a relationship that was emotionally & verbally abusive, the stress and worry was unbearable at times & totally screwed with my head. I found myself being reckless in so many ways, but I just didn’t know how to process it all, felt ashamed and really struggled with mum’s choices. Mum could call and say the most awful and scary things, scream at me that’s she is about to kill herself or something nasty and abusive, then the next day call back like nothing has happened and not remember a thing! I tried some support, counselling, CBT, but never found what I needed. I felt ashamed of my family, my mum, the way I was behaving to try and cope with it all and also guilty for not being able to do more to help mum. I always wanted to keep a relationship with mum no matter what- so many times I wanted to walk away but always knew I only had one mum and wanted her in my life. I never knew how I could have a relationship in a healthy way for myself.
But it is possible. I found an approach that works for me. I learnt a bit more around the nature of thought and how our mind works in connection with our emotions and found a lot of peace by understanding myself a bit better. I was able to forgive mum for some of the past and accept the rest and forgive myself for past behaviours. This has helped me hugely; we communicate better, I dropped my expectations I had and didn’t feel she was ‘letting me down’ as much. I started learning more about her past and had little insights into what was actually a difficult past. I felt compassion, empathy and understanding I never had before. I do not condone any of her behaviour but I believe she was doing the best she knew at that time. It’s still challenging at times, but I have set healthy boundaries that help me manage the relationship. So much so that she is currently temporarily living with us while we find her a house closer to us! I know when will always drink, I don’t think she wants to stop. I completely know I didn’t cause it, can’t cure it (have tried lots over the years!) and I definitely can’t control it! I also know there is still a lot of love in there and she is a good person who is an alcoholic and makes poor choices. She will lie, we don’t have a ‘typical & normal’ mother daughter relationship- but who cares. We were all made to stand out & what I have learned from my childhood has made me who I am today. It shaped us all and my family are the most amazing people I could ask for- even if we are all a bit nuts. Her happiness is her responsibility not mine. I am only in charge of myself.
I feel now in a good place with it all. It wasn’t about changing mum, it was around me better understanding how to manage my own thoughts and feelings. I have no shame about my past and feel empathy towards my mum and her drinking. I now want to help others get to find that peace within themselves and healthy relationships with family alcoholics.
+- I lost my superpower: Strength (Samantha)
A few days after I turned 28 this year I watched my 47 year old mother die in hospital due to years and years of drinking. I had not seen my mum in 10 years, I had 10 minutes with her while she was conscious and I sat with her for two days until she died in front of me at around 10:00 in the morning.
I spent years with my mum when I was a teenager trying to get her to stop drinking. I was attacked verbally on a daily basis but continued to fight her to show her that there was a different path she could take. Unfortunately my mum didn’t want the help and didn’t want to change. I have so much guilt about this, but I know I did the best I could.
I have spent most of my adult life striving to be the best version of me. I had fuelled a strength and had promised myself that I would be better.
The moment my mum passed my strength disappeared. I held it together at the hospital, during the funeral planning and even the funeral, but it’s only now that cracks are starting to show. The wounds of having an alcoholic parent feel as if they have resurfaced for the first time in many years. I am back to the first step; figuring out how I forgive my mum.
In the days after my mum passed I wrote these words down on my phone and wanted to keep and share them when I was ready;
When it’s time to say goodbye, there is no movement. There is no sound. They say “She is gone”.
Time didn’t matter in the days or hours before. They meant something in the missing years but not anymore.
The guilt, the anger, the rows have to all be forgiven. I am told “You have to forgive”.
It’s only after when the plans are made, flowers chosen and family have parted that you think was there more I could have done?
Nothing feels the same. Tastes, sounds or smells. I am numb to it all.
The daily worries are no longer mine as if the rose-coloured lenses were never mine.
The questions I had will never be answered. The answers I wanted will never be given.
I am still not prepared even though we have said goodbye. Maybe one day I will get the chance to get the answers that are mine.
My grief starts here.
+- My story so far (Emma)
My mum is an alcoholic and has been for about 20 years. I am the eldest of three girls. My mum was the main carer for my dad who had a long term condition and sadly we lost dad 3 years ago. I remember living at home in my late 20’s and often having to care for my dad, assist him to bed because my mum was drunk, be there to get him up in the morning as mum was poorly from the day before. These occasions were few and far between with mum going as long as 5 years without a drink!!!
I moved out into my own place and would often receive calls from my dad saying that mum had gone up to bed at say 4pm for a ‘lie down’ and it was now 8pm and she hadn’t come down. I would drive round, wake mum up, do what was required for my dad and often stay the night. One phone call ended up me staying at mum and dads for over a week because mum had been on the drink for days!!!!
As mentioned we lost dad in 2015, mum lost her soulmate, her life partner (they had been married 43 years) and what she saw as her purpose. This resulted in several hospital admissions, kidney failure at one point and even being intubated in ITU on 2 occasions. She has been in a mental health unit, private rehab none of which have helped and to this day she is still drinking.
Mum now goes maybe 5 or 6 days where she doesn’t drink but then once she’s back on it again she becomes unable to do anything. I have lost count of the times mum has been ‘rescued’ as I call it only to do it all over again. I have accepted the fact that she will never stop now or have I? Is that something I maybe tell myself to make it appear I have? I struggle now with the ‘is mum ok today’? ‘will she answer the phone’? ‘will she reply to my text’?. I imagine finding her at home and the drink has finally taken her. It’s the last thing I think of at night and the first thing I think about when I wake and that’s if I’m lucky to sleep through without a horrible dream about my mum and her drinking. I feel responsible for mum now and am just waiting for the day I do find her and it’s too late, it’s a case of when and not if and I seem to say that so easily to those around me who know about mum. I feel extreme sadness for mum most of the time and terrible anger and loss also at what life has now become for mum. She doesn’t leave the house and orders her drink online. I will never stop that I realise that. One of my sisters has nothing more to do with mum as it was too damaging and the other sister lives hours away.
Writing this down for someone else to read feels surreal. I feel embarrassed that my mum is an alcoholic. I am aware I have some of the characteristics closely associated with being a child of an alcoholic, I never knew how I am at times is down to how mum is but seeing it in black and white I recognise myself. I feel anxious daily and worry all the time. I want to feel ‘normal’ but am unsure what that is after such a long time now.
My wish for my mum is to see that there are people around her who care for her and love her and she does have a purpose but I feel that is never going to happen. Me and my sisters are not enough for mum to stop and that is hard to accept. Have I accepted that things are never going to change? I honestly don’t know. Will I be relieved when the alcohol finally takes mum? I don’t know.
Emma, 43 years.
+- We were a complicated family (Anon)
I know that each time you remember something, you remember the memory, so I guess when I tell my story, I may be merging a number of memories into one.
We were a complicated family. Both my parents passed away quite some time ago. Mums first husband had died and in the late fifties in Ireland, this was not good when you had a young family to bring up, but she met my Dad, moved to England where he had a house and a job. Mum missed her family in Ireland and probably never settled, and in her unhappiness began to drink and blamed Dad I guess – there were lots of arguments fuelled by alcohol. He eventually left home.
Mum worked in the school I went to and she always had a cup full of sherry in her hand. I hate the smell of sherry. Kids would make fun, calling us as mum was drinking. I remember being with her coming home from work one time, waiting to get on a bus – the driver refused to let us on the bus she was so drunk. I was maybe 10 at the time. I remember a boy at the bus stop spitting at me, wiping spit in my hair – because mum was drunk.
When she had been drinking I remember her screaming abuse at me and my siblings from a very young age – using language like ‘whores, bastards, dirty bitches, etc. I remember one time; my mum really did batter me in front of her work colleagues. I was bruised, I was ashamed, and I ran away. I began to not care about her, or about me. The physical stuff was easier to deal with than the verbal abuse. I have no doubt that we went to school in unwashed clothes and unwashed ourselves – gas and electricity was often cut off as bills weren’t paid. She was always in rent arrears. I imagine I was that smelly kid in the class.
Dad gave mum money via us for ‘keep’ when we went to see him. We learned to keep it and not pass it on and go straight to the supermarket to do food shopping otherwise we might not eat – we probably got into trouble for that.
I was friendless; I was so shy, and withdrawn. I worked hard at school, I didn’t know how to be friends with my peers. On parents evening at secondary school she would often be drunk telling the teachers that I was lazy, disrespectful, etc my teachers would say I worked hard, I was bright, I was a good kid. I grew up believing my mum.
I remember taking photos of her when she was drunk, showing them to her when she was sober, and asking why did she want to be like that – she would say she was not drunk, she was just kidding. To the outside world, mum was a lovely lady, people loved her. Her family in Ireland adore her, and tell me what a wonderful woman she was – I struggle to see it – well maybe I saw glimpses – I resent the affection they have for her.
The older I get the less I feel anything about her and that saddens me to the core. I want to miss my mum, I want to need her, I want to love her, but she never let us in.
I am blessed with a wonderful family now of whom I am deeply, deeply proud – I don’t know how I got here. I just pray I have allowed my children to be themselves and that they can face this world with confidence in themselves, and never to feel ashamed of who they are or never to feel ashamed of me.
The older I get the less it matters, but the more it matters. It’s a bit confusing. I want to tell the world, and I don’t want to tell the world. I have just begun to learn who I am. I don’t blame Mum. She was I think desperately sad, unhappy, and lonely. She pushed us away, there was no way in. All I wanted was for her to love us, to love me, and I think she did but just could not show it. I didn’t know how to fix it, or make it better, and there is nothing I can do about it.
+- My mother drank through guilt (Debra)
I am 44 years old.
My mother started drinking through guilt over her own mothers death a year before I was born.
I have no idea when it turned to an addiction and am not sure if I have blocked out a lot of my memories. After she got arrested for drunk driving I realised it was alcoholism and rang the AA for her & handed over the phone. She must have realised herself as she did go on to recovery & helped a lot of others on her journey. It was only then I realised I had cleared up her sick before not because she had been sick but because she has drank so much.
My older brother was also an alcoholic & drug addict & he died as a result at the age of 37 when I was 28.
My mum past away 4 years ago, shortly before my fortieth birthday. It was not alcohol related and she had remained sober since I was 18 I believe.
I myself have had anxiety issues since my parents divorced in my late teens. This year I was told I am suffering from depression & have been getting help from my doctor & a counsellor.
It has been tough. The bit I find most distressing is having flashbacks. My counsellor believes they relate to childhood trauma. I am still trying to associate my flashbacks with my experiences. This may sound strange but I am told our brains try & protect us from major trauma by hiding the events behind a barrier in our minds as a way of protecting us.
It is common for childhood trauma to surface in peoples early to mid forties, or so I am told. I would encourage anyone who is struggling to try counselling – even if you have been through it before and are left thinking it is a waste of time as a result. I was there. I thought when I turned up at my first appointment that I was a fraud & it was a waste of time for myself & my counsellor. I have been lucky though & found a wonderful counsellor this time.
I struggle particularly with thoughts of my Mum, as I feel I never knew the real her. I knew the one who was alcohol dependent and I knew the one in recovery but wonder if I ever knew the real Mum.
I am doing better now & have decided to go ‘Sober for a quarter’ raising money for, amongst others, NACOA. I find it comforting finding stories of others in similar situations as you feel you are not alone & will be OK.
+- One of the many painful facts of being the child of an alcoholic parent is struggling to define what you have made for yourself, and what others have made you into. (Jonathan)
One of the hardest things about being the child of an alcoholic is being one after the fact. My father died nine years ago, in 2008, when I was fifteen. My grief for his passing, and my experiences since, are compounded by the fact that he caused so much pain in his life.
I was raised by disabled parents. The strained tense in that sentence is the very epitome of the difficulty in talking about my childhood. My mum is deaf; my dad was deaf. My dad was deaf not because he is no longer deaf, but because he is dead. Hence: I was raised by disabled parents. I often feel a pang of remorse that the only way to explain that in a grammatically correct way suggests somewhat that my mum is no longer around.
We were also Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was growing up. I can’t talk ill of a religion that so many millions willingly prescribe to, but I can say from experience that growing up not celebrating your birthday, or Christmas, or Easter, being removed from class at any celebration or religious education lesson, and spending four of the seven days of a week in church or knocking on peoples doors does not make for an especially happy childhood in and of itself.
After my father died, my brother and myself also came to the realisation that we were both gay. Aside from the religion, the disability, and Dad’s alcoholism, this confusing experience made us both easy targets for bullying when we were growing up (no matter how many girls we dated.)
It is often hard to know where to begin in discussing dad’s alcoholism. Dad was not an active parent, even before his addiction consumed him. I have a vague memory of being six years old and watching him pull in to the driveway and feeling upset about it. That was around the same time that he lost his job as a toolmaker, and began relying too much on alcohol.
Memories of childhood are patchy. I had friends, but our relationship was stifled by my religion, by the barriers that disability presents (especially as a parent), and by the fact that my home was not a happy place to go to for most of my childhood. I could talk in intricate detail about the events of my childhood, which perhaps reflect who I am now. It is sometimes hard not to do that; it is hard not to over-psychoanalyse, and make assumptions that my behaviour is entirely indicative of my upbringing. One of the many painful facts of being the child of an alcoholic parent is struggling to define what you have made for yourself, and what others have made you into.
Rather, I find it easier to use three memories that are seared into my mind, which perhaps best sum up my experiences as the child of an alcoholic. I do not think that I will ever forget them.
The first was when a friend was invited over after school. I’m sure I was younger than ten. We were playing in the living room. Ordinarily, it was the prime place to be if dad had disappeared for the afternoon. The entrance to the front door and the side door were visible from the living room, and it gave us the advantage of being prepared for his drunken arrival. I had, however, not noticed that he’d arrived home until I’d heard the side door slam open and a crash come from the kitchen. With Mum being deaf, it was instinctive to investigate noises in the house, even if they came from Dad and even if I was terrified of them. He’d lost his balance on the step up into the kitchen and fallen flat on his face. Mum was trying to help him up and he had pushed her on to the floor in his effort to regain his balance. His nose was bloody, and they had immediately begun arguing. Profoundly deaf people often struggle to know the volume of their speech; when they argue with their voices, it can get loud. And it did. I was scared for my mum because he was being aggressive, but I was also mortified knowing that my friend was in the living room, unintentionally listening in. I walked away back to my friend, and Dad followed me. He fell – literally – on to the newly bought sofa and immediately wet himself. He urinated so much that the sofa dripped with his urine, and it had to be professionally cleaned. He passed out before he knew that he’d done any of this, and I had to ask my friend to wait in my bedroom while Mum and I carried a soaking wet grown adult into his own bed.
Alcoholism is dealt with privately. It always has been: that is not to say it is right. People don’t discuss alcoholism in public, because they worry about the potentially embarrassing repercussions. When you are a child you are indoctrinated into this belief. And when that privacy is broken, no matter how understanding the closest of friends can be, it is harrowing to experience. I struggled to maintain that friendship afterwards.
The second memory is shortly preceded by the third. It is brief. Dad’s alcoholism, his unemployment, his disability and his inability to resolve any of these things made him aggressive and suicidal. He’d taken it upon himself, on numerous occasions, to try and commit suicide. A neighbour had twice talked him down from a bridge near us, and driven him home. What does a child say to a man who wants to die? And what does a child say to their father who wants to die? I don’t think any COA with an abusive alcoholic parent could ever deny wondering in what ways their parent’s death would free them from the abuse or the oppression they may suffer. It is a sad thought to have. On this occasion, I’d come downstairs because I could hear screaming, and I saw my brother and mum wrestling knives from Dad’s hand. He’d had an argument with the both of them and he’d run to the kitchen to try and slit his wrists. My brother is older than me, but he was still too young at that time to be wrestling a fully-grown man to the ground. We’d collectively taken all the knives from him, and from the draw, and I was tasked with taking them upstairs and hiding them. I put them all under my bed. When I came out of my room, Dad had stumbled his way up the stairs and on to the landing, and had me by the neck before I had a chance to get away. I don’t have the strongest of relationships with my brother, but I will never forget his fearlessness in facing Dad. He’d wrenched his hand off my neck and thrown me into Mum and Dad’s bedroom. He stood face to face with my dad in the doorway, goading him to see what happens if he tried to hurt me again. He must have been thirteen at the time. My dad head-butted him, smacking my brother’s head into the doorframe and knocking him out. I have no memory of what happened after. All I remember is going to sleep that night with knives under my bed, and asking my mum if she thought Dad would try and kill me.
An alcoholic person provides family members with the great difficulty of having to protect each other from them. It is no mean feat, especially for children. My brother was brave, and fearless, and so angry all of the time. He protected me. My mother was – and still is – a beacon of strength and power and kindness and love. She still protects me. But my relationship with both of them faced the same strife as it did with my dad, because we were brought together through abuse, and through fear, rather than through love. And that experience does one of two things: it either binds two people in an inextricable way, or it makes two people further from each other than they’d ever hoped to be. In a bittersweet way, I have endured both of those things.
The third memory that is perhaps the most impactful is perhaps the easiest to explain. I was nine, and playing with action figures in the living room. Dad was behind me, sat on his armchair; my brother and mum were upstairs looking at something on the computer. My dad was drunk, but very calmly said my name. I remember feeling angry the second he did. I turned round to look at him, and saw him with his hands clenched together in the air. I had no idea why, until he said that he was sorry and until I saw the glimmer that made me realise he was holding a knife. He brought it down on his stomach at the same time I ran upstairs screaming that he had stabbed himself. My brother and mum raced down to find that he had – miraculously – caught his belt buckle, and not managed to pierce his stomach.
I have no idea of the events that occurred before or after that memory. It is black. But that memory, etched indelibly in my head, is impossible to think of in objective terms. I relive the terror I felt at that moment each and every time I think back to it. I try to exorcise the memory by writing about it or talking about it, by blocking it out or by thinking of nothing else but it. Nevertheless, it persists. It always will. That moment was, I think, very much when my childhood died. I never thought of Dad the same way again, or thought of life the same way again. That transient moment, compounded by years of abuse and fear, robbed me of a childhood that was rightfully mine. Any person should feel so much anger in the knowledge that joy and freedom and love was taken from them. For a long time, I did.
And yet, years later, when we had the word from the doctor that my dad would die within weeks, I was overwhelmed with grief. He stayed in hospital for six weeks and we visited him every day. By that time, Mum and he were divorced. This was the most time I’d spent with him in two years. I had been happier than I’d been before. He was not a source of daily anguish any more. And yet, when he slipped into a coma after the sixth week, and died hours later – ten minutes before I was due to sit a GCSE exam – I wept in a way that I never had and never have since. I held his hand and watched the last breath leave his body, and all those years that I expected to feel relief and joy at this moment were met with nothing but incomparable sadness. I took his watch from his wrist. My brother took his wedding ring. We both wear those things every day, still.
There are, in my mind, two things that can happen as a result of being the child of an alcoholic. You can let it become a part of your past; a distant and unfortunate memory that only rears its head on occasions where people discuss the apparent joys of childhood. Or you can use that pain, that anger, and that grief as a vehicle to make positive changes for yourself and the world around you. Being a COA means facing up to the demons of your past each and every day. It means long nights of silent sadness, and days where you’re so low without really understanding why. But it also gives us the opportunity to be better people. It gives us the chance to take our pain and make something useful out of it: to teach others the power and potential of respect, and kindness, and love.
I pride myself on being a listener. I pride myself on being a good friend. I pride myself on caring about other people. Sometimes I stumble in my efforts to be a good person, and sometimes I think too much about myself and not others. But when those moments happen, I think back to that hospital bed – to a man, fifty years old, surrounded by a family that loved him and about to draw his last breath. That man was ill; that man caused so much pain. But if I can have the strength to love him still, I can have the strength to be a better person for the sake of all the people that are my Dad and are a younger me. And that is both the pain and joy of being a child of an alcoholic parent.
+- My dad’s alcoholism took a turn for the worse when I was 7 years old (Tara)
My mum had just filed for divorce and was admitted into hospital with serious mental health problems. From there, myself and my brothers went through the endless cycle of my dad being completely drunk and taking our dinner money for a few months, to being completely alcohol free for a few months. He and my mum stayed together but had a very volatile relationship and because she had her own issues, there wasn’t a lot of stability or support coming from her either.
My dad died when I was 14. He was alone, in his flat and his organs basically gave up. At the time of his death, we hadn’t spoken for a while and it really affected me that we’d never been able to make up. For a number of years it really affected my relationship choices as I’d not had any good examples of how men should behave.
I’ve never had any issues with alcohol myself, as I would never let myself become my father. Unfortunately my mum now also has a pretty serious alcohol problem too, so the cycle has been never ending.
Thankfully I came through the other side and I’m married to a lovely man with a great career. I wanted to share my story so other people know that just because you’ve had an alcoholic parent, doesn’t mean you’re destined to go down that path and you can make something great of your life.
+- One year ago this week, my Dad died peacefully in his hospice bed (Joe)
I was standing right next to him at the time, trying to comfort him during his last few breaths. Somehow, I found that I still loved him, although how this could possibly be the case after all that he had done, all that he had put me through was totally beyond me.
The truth was that, up until the age of about 13 years old, he had been my hero. I had idolised him. He had given me a passion for life, for sport, for so many other exciting childhood things and with it, I had grown a belief that I could do anything I wanted to do in life. I remember feeling really proud of him and all that he stood for. He was everything I ever wanted to be.
My very innocent life was suddenly turned upside down when unexpectedly my parents announced that they were separating. Within what seemed like only days, my Dad (my hero) had vanished too, into the depths of alcoholism, of isolation and of self-pity.
In place of my Dad there was now an imposter. This man looked the same as my Dad and sounded the same as my Dad, but he had lost any inkling of interest in me. His sole interest from that point onwards was in drowning his sorrows in endless bottles of whisky. He would start (without exception) from the moment he arrived home from work and he would continue through to the point of black-out, pretty much every night. I would often wake up and find him collapsed in front of the TV in his armchair. I would often try to wake him up, but wouldn’t be able to do so – I guess this must have been quite frightening for me at the time…..
The feelings of pride I had for him were very quickly replaced with (what I realise now were) overpowering emotions of fear, of shame, of guilt, of humiliation, of pain and of loneliness.
His alcoholism felt so personal to me and so public. Living in a small village, I imagined that the whole world were all gossiping about my Dad, and worse still, about me. It felt like everything that was happening was my fault. It was as if I shared responsibility for his addiction and I felt all of those incredibly harmful, negative emotions that he must have been experiencing, as he gradually lost all control of his life.
I remember thinking to myself that it was time to grow up and take responsibility. I suppose that I actually went into survival mode as that helped me to protect myself against any further hurt. I’m not sure how consciously this choice was made, or whether it was just through instinct, however I’m pretty sure that I knew that I had to change to be able to cope with what had suddenly become a much more difficult, more serious and much less innocent life.
I remember at the time often being told that I was “very mature for my age” (by friends’ parents etc). In a strange sort of way, I would feel really proud of myself for this. I wasn’t a child anymore and could look after myself. I was obviously behaving in the right way.
I soon started to lose interest in all the passions I had had before, in all the exciting hobbies and activities Dad had previously encouraged me to pursue. Instead, I would choose less healthy and more grown up things to do.
I remember feeling very different from my school friends as I seemed to have more freedom than they had and was able to do more of what I wanted to do, without any apparent repercussions. I would be scared to invite my friends back to my home, as I would never know what state Dad may be in. The fact was that Dad was so pre-occupied with his own self-pity and bottles of whisky that he wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about what I was up to.
As I grew older, I would remind myself all the time that I wasn’t the same as everyone else. Gradually, this began to affect my friendships and relationships. I found it hard to trust others and so I felt that I could only really rely on myself. The truth was that I would subconsciously push people away when they became too close, through fear of being hurt.
I would still go to ridiculous lengths however to protect this unrecognisable, alcoholic man who lived in our house from the outside world. I would tell everyone that everything was absolutely fine and that Dad was actually very well. It was always so much easier to lie than to be truthful about how incredibly difficult and frightening things really were.
I learnt not to talk, not to trust and not to feel.
In later life, and as Dad’s alcoholism got progressively worse, I found it easier to distance myself more and more from my Dad and not to have any form of communication with him. If the truth be told, I would always feel so much guilt for losing contact with him and such a weight of responsibility for him, despite my disgust and hatred for what he had become.
On many occasions I would visit him – having had no contact for several months or even longer – unsure as to whether I would find him still alive, whether he would have committed suicide or just passed away in a pool of his own vomit. He became a complete recluse and seemed to enjoy his isolation.
Meanwhile, I had grown up to become very independent, to have a beautiful wife and three wonderful young daughters of my own. Together with a good job and a lovely home, to all outward appearances, I led a reasonably successful and happy life.
The truth was however, that at the age of 42 years old, as my Dad was finally losing his fight to alcoholism (and his cancer), I realised that I no longer recognised nor liked myself. I had well and truly lost my true-self and I was equally concerned that my methods of coping with life were leading me in the wrong direction.
During my earlier years and in my determination to protect myself from further hurt and pain, I had learnt to control everything to cope with life. This would include both things within my power to control and things I had no right or power to control. I never thought for a minute that I was acting unhealthily (I guess I was still in survival mode) as this was just what I had done all of my life and I knew no other way.
I learned an incredible knack for being able to dismiss my own feelings in favour of trying to make everything alright for everyone else, avoiding any sort of conflict, anger, hurt or pain.
In my own mind, I wanted to make everything alright for other people so that they would like me. More often than not, I was actually diverting my attention from my own feelings onto something much more worthy, much more tangible, but belonging to someone else.
My life had become unmanageable. I was taking on so much and trying to control so much that I had started to drop all of the balls I was juggling. I had stuffed away all my feelings for over 30 years and these were now surfacing. I had no idea of how to cope with them. My self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem had hit rock-bottom. I was in need of help.
Since my Dad passed away and over the past 12 months, I have gone into recovery. I have rediscovered myself with the help of NACOA and 12-Step Fellowships such as ACA & CoDA and I feel I have regained my identity.
Until recently, I had absolutely no idea that there were other people in similar positions to me, who were willing to talk about their experiences, their feelings and their truths so openly and honestly, and best of all, to support each other without judgement.
My life is now unrecognisable from where I was a year ago. I am gradually learning new and healthy behaviours. As a good friend of mine says, it’s like “learning a new language”.
With three small daughters, I am really excited to learn about how I can help them to be open, to talk, trust and feel in their own ways. I am really hopeful that this will allow them to cope healthily with the challenges which life throws at them in future.
My recovery is providing me with a sense of self-worth and self-love which I can honestly say that I have not felt before.
I have also learned gradually to let go of those negative emotions and in turn, this has allowed me to make peace with my Dad.
Actually, if it weren’t for his alcoholism, I wouldn’t be the person I am now…….so for that Dad, I am grateful
…Rest easy my hero x
+- My awareness of my father’s drinking may not have been from the very beginning but I remember enough. (Jo)
It is interesting to think back at it all now as an adult child of an alcoholic and someone that has come out the other side and let me reassure you that there is another side.
The main things I can remember about my dad’s drinking was that I was probably around 8 years old and I began to understand that dad didn’t really play a big part in our lives, when I say “our lives” I mean my mum and my older sister’s life. My younger sister came along 9 years later so she had a very different view of my dad and ultimately a different life.
My older sister and I would help my mum around the house a lot, mum had 2 or 3 jobs plus being a mum to my sister and I. At the time I just remember feeling angry because I didn’t want to be responsible and I didn’t want to have to do chores, I wanted to be out with my friends and have fun. The jobs and helping out just seemed to be all the time, or at least that is how I remember it, but my mum needed our help because dad wasn’t around much. The positive I can take from it all is that I learnt a lot of valuable skills that have helped me in my life now.
Living in an alcoholic home is what was normal to me, I didn’t know any different. My dad had ups and downs and sometimes he managed to kick the habit without any help from Alcoholics Anonymous or the doctor. The other times he didn’t do so well, he would spend a lot of his time sat in his car in the driveway, listening to the radio and drinking. I found it so embarrassing and people would ask what he was doing, my friends that lived nearby would say “why does your dad always sit in his car”, and as a child that was humiliating but I kept his secret and never said anything about the drinking. It is interesting how you learn to be creative with the truth, you have to learn to keep it a secret and to not tell other people because ultimately we were afraid.
My dad was aggressive when he drank, he would chase us around the kitchen table and we used to stand in a certain place so we kept enough distance between us and him. We weren’t always quick enough and he would hit us round the head or legs. Dad would always get really angry and then calm down and talk and then get angry again. His behaviour was so unpredictable you never knew what mood he would be in or how he was going to react. This in turn had a negative impact on me growing up because I became quite anxious, but I didn’t know that was what it was. I have to admit it wasn’t until a few years ago I realised I had anxiety, obviously I knew a little bit about how I felt but I didn’t label it.
The household was like dad at times, like Jekyll and Hyde, one minute he was really nice and the next minute not so much. The house could be like that too but of course that was connected to his mood a lot of the time. As an adult child of an alcoholic I can reflect back now and see the damage that was done but I am not totally convinced I appreciate just how much and how bad it was.
I don’t know why my dad started the drinking and I will never know now because sadly he passed away 2 months to the day before my 21st birthday, my younger sister was 11 years old. Dad was riddled with alcoholism and his body just couldn’t survive it anymore. He had been sectioned a few times and I remember him experiencing quite bad hallucinations, I remember him not recognising his own children (my older sister and I) when we were leaving the house to go and stay with my grandparents, I was so scared.
My dad was also quite abusive and he would touch our bodies, he once locked the lounge door and made us watch a pornographic movie and other times he would say he wanted to check on our development and make us take our clothes off. It sounds awful now as I write this but that is the reality of it, it may be hard to hear for some because it may sound horrific and disturbing but to me I don’t know any different. As an adult I can absolutely see that it was completely inappropriate but I am not sure I totally see the scale of it.
We did have the social services involved at various times but as is quite normal in an alcoholic home you don’t discuss anything, so we kept his secret and the drinking continued and we continued to live in fear of him. Unfortunately the damage of alcoholism is wide spread, it affects the money in the family – a lot of the time my dad would spend the mortgage money on drink and so that put a massive pressure on my mum to find it in time for the bank to make their withdrawal. It affects the atmosphere, it affects the relationships, the trust and so much more.
Now I am older I have learnt more about alcoholism and I decided to attend a local Al-Anon meeting a few years ago and I have to say it changed my life. I felt like a fraud attending because I was no longer living with an alcoholic and surely I shouldn’t go because that was for people that are in that situation now. I experienced this years and years ago so I felt attending so many years later was a bit of a waste of time, how wrong I was. I felt so accepted when I went there and this was the turning point in my life, I felt totally understood and I felt like there were others like me, that I am “not mad”. The relief I felt was immense and something I am forever grateful for.
My biggest learning from this experience has been that alcoholism affects not just the drinker but everyone they are connected to, particularly the immediate family. In order for us as a family to cope with the situation we had to develop our own coping strategies. I learnt to be on hyper alert so I could prepare for the unknown, I became obsessed with being in control of everything so it would limit damage and reduce problems, I did spend a lot of time on my own, I wanted to fix the problems, I blamed myself and I learnt I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions.
I was very good at getting angry and being brutally honest but as an adult I have learnt that isn’t the way and that I need to address this. It is still something I find very hard to do because it makes me vulnerable and it isn’t natural to me to do but with years of therapy and support things have turned around and I am able to say when I feel hurt or upset rather than just tell someone they annoyed me and not how it made me feel. It is tough because in my mind I felt it made me weak and that wasn’t something I could afford to be in an alcoholic home if I wanted to survive.
I was a scared child with no voice, no one listened to me. I had to do as I was told and I had no one to help me, to explain what was going on, to really understand where I was coming from.
I spoke to someone recently and she said “of all the people I treat, people that are children of alcoholics or had some connection to alcoholism are the most damaged”. I had to learn ways to cope and as a child they were perfect or at least helped me at the time, but as an adult they no longer serve me in a positive way so I have had to and continue to learn how to find new ways of being.
There is hope, but it is a long journey and one that can’t be rushed.
+- I’ve Struggled Today (Tracey)
I’ve struggled today
The light’s not been quite right
My eyelids felt heavy
And the room looked so bright
I’ve struggled today
To move far from this spot
I’ve a temperature, I’m sure
Oh so cold, then too hot
I’ve struggled today
There’s something going round
Maybe flu is a-brewing
Don’t you worry, I’m sound!
I’ve just struggled today
To find get up and go
Perhaps I’m doing too much
I should learn to say no
You’d have struggled today
If you’d been in my head
All the words rolled around
Could you be me instead?
Not forever, temporarily
’Til I get back on track
’Cos I’ve struggled today
And the kids are due back
They’ll say, “Mum, have you moved?”
I’ll say, “Course, I’ve been busy!”
I spun around doing nothing
’Til it made me feel dizzy
I’ve struggled today
And I’ll struggle tonight
Must I really cook dinner?
Cheese on toast is all right
I must peg the washing out
It’s been sat there for days
I can smell it’s gone musty
God, I’ve struggled today
I’m not even sure if I’ve been for a wee
I did boil the kettle, had two cups of tea
I’m not drowning my sorrows, that’s just not for me!
But I’ve struggled today to do much more than breathe…
Oh woman, snap out of it!
Everything’s falling apart
As I struggle to mend
My bruised and battered heart
For now I’ll do sitting
Having quiet ‘me’ time
’Cos I’ve struggled today
Tomorrow, I’ll be just fine
+- Ma Girls in the Sky wae Diamonds (Dawn)
Pairties in Heaven rent a But n Ben in yer heid.
There’s the yins furr Deid Babies. Furr Example.
Ye ken the yins ah mean – whaur the Deid Rellies ur invited. There’s
aye yin in every faimly. Oh, Aye.
Hoovering the Hooch and Scoffing aw the Donuts; fat yins; chocolates
yins; wae custard that trails yer chin.
How no’ orange sprinkles wae treacle an toap?
ITS YER BIRTHDAY EFTER AW.
HOW JAMMY IS THAT?
Go oan, whut wid ye dae, if ye cud dae anythin ye wanted cus you wur A
DEID BABY in Heaven?
Tak yer nappy aff fur the day. Be seeck in peace.
Play RING-A-RING-A-ROSES wi yer chums?
Or wi yer THREE DOTIN’ GRANNIES. Whut Stoaters
Ah’m telling ye. Wicked tae huv three
Ye shuld meet thum. Ah’ll tell thum tae look
oot fur ye next time they float oan by.
Grave Tenders. N Pairty Planners Par Excellence.
If ye cud dae anythin ye wanted – ye ur Deid efter a’;
The Big Yin Himsel’- rest yer poor wee Soul
an a’ that; cud see to it furr yer
Da’tae read the JABBERWOCKY tae ye.
Like a Lullaby.
Rap Style. Hip Hop. An Shoo
Ye cud throw purple poison
darts it yer worstest enemy.
Maybes even – aff wi their heids!
Ye mind the Queen
in Alice in Wonderland?
Maybes give yin an’aw the day aff;
while yeas hod yer Blood furr yer Paintings.
Furr Puddin – Ban Wars; Famine; Suicide Bombers.
Ye cud no vote in the general election.
Refuse tae grow up aw thegither. FURREVER AN EVER.
Why wid ye need tae?
YER DEID BABIES IN HEAVEN.
Whaur every day’s a Pairty.
+- Mother (Patsy)
I remember you stroking my nose
Till I fell to sleep
I remember your beauty
Your irritating sense of humour
And you left
Not quickly, or promptly
One drink took you to a black hole of despair
We watch you crumble
Cell by cell
Consumed by your needs
Many years ago
And we lost you before we even
Realised you were missing
You fell over the cliff top
And we watch you fall
That gravity will break
And you will float back up to us
Loving yourself as much as we
Love you x
+- The monster (Audrey)
We all have fears. Enclosed spaces, spiders, public speaking, heights, death. You name it.
Mine is door handles. Strange, you would think.
Coming back home after school was always the most apprehensive time of the day.
Here I was, aged 10, in front of the door looking at that terrifying handle.
Who was going to be behind the door? The nice caring mum or…the monster?
Eyes closed, racing heart, deep breath, I hoped for the best and pressed the handle.
Nice caring mum would welcome me with a warm smile and ask “Hi darling, how was school?”
The monster would vaguely acknowledge me. It would be sitting on the couch, listening to old songs. It had mum’s face but it looks like it was melting, with tiny eyes and sloped shoulders.
With nice caring mum, we would wait for dad, have dinner, talk, watch TV.
With the monster, I would stay in my bedroom whilst it would argue and fight with dad.
The never-ending exchange of vile words, the noise of the alcohol’s cabinet opening and closing constantly. Coffee table split, chairs thrown, cables cut, glasses broken, blood, tears, screams. How did all of this become “the norm”?
I had nowhere to go, nobody to speak to.
My dad never came to hug or reassure me. Maybe embarrassed, scared, weak but definitely not the person who would save me and what you would expect from a parent.
My bedroom became my prison and yet, the safest place imaginable.
What do you do when you are a kid stuck between four walls with a scary intoxicated parent downstairs?
I would listen to music loudly in my headphones, pen down my pain, cry, talk to myself before eventually falling asleep.
But I could not even find peace in my dreams.
I started having nightmares from a very young age. Mum was looking for me and I had to hide, but we were not playing hide and seek, she wanted to kill me. She would always find me and put her cold hands around my neck to strangle me. I would wake up petrified.
Aged 13 I found comfort in food. This frantic need to fill myself up with cakes, crisps, cold pasta, beans from the tin, anything. Boulimia started. Then came the self-harm. I would cut myself to allow the physical pain to take over the excruciating emotional’s one.
My parents had no idea of what was happening in that room. Or did they? That abyss they were creating and where I was falling right through.
I became darker and darker, wondering if jumping under a train would be easier than slashing my wrists. One night I looked at the monster and the bottle of wine on the table. For a fraction of seconds, I thought about breaking it on its head with such brutality. I wanted it to shut up, to disappear, to leave me in peace. But I was not that violent person so I run as fast as I could in the night, feeling incredibly scared and free at the same time. I was not inside the four walls anymore.
Aged 20, I left university and moved to London. I craved a fresh start, away from home and that madness. I finally confine in a friend. It was the best feeling to finally be able to speak to someone, to open up without being scared or judged.
I now have a great husband and daughter, a lovely home, a good job, hobbies, plans for the future. The bulimia and self-harm have stopped and I can finally fight back in my dreams. But despite all of this, a part of me will remain broken. I wish NACOA was around when I was a kid.
Maybe I would not have needed years of therapy, maybe my nights would be peaceful, maybe I would not have those scars on my body.
Maybe I would still have a relationship with my parents.
To anyone with a drinking problem, please realise how alcohol can deeply affect those around you. Do not become that monster. Do not let your children wonder if it would be easier to jump under a train or slash their wrists. Seek help. I wish mum did.
And to all the young people, you have my deepest respect to live with that burden and still manage to smile, to keep going, but it should not be that way. Find someone you trust, call the Nacoa’s helpline. Never, ever suffer in silence. May your days and nights be free from fear and violence. There is hope, I swear.
+- A Family Illness (Emma)
My name is Emma and I am 28 years old. I am in recovery for my own alcoholism thank God but my mum is still drinking.
Growing up, my older sister and I had an amazing childhood with lots of love and care from our parents and family. It was only when I reached high school that the cracks started to show. I noticed my Mum and Dad were not getting along at times and could feel the family slowly drifting apart and problems arising. I too had my own problems but I was aware of a big constant at home and that was alcohol.
Lots of the memories are a blur to me but when I was 15 or so, my parents started to break up and my mum wasn’t herself. She said it was menopause. By the time I was 16 and doing my GCSE’s, my mum wasn’t coming home in the evenings and my Dad was drinking large amounts of rum at home and was very sad. I remember begging my Dad to eat something and picking him up off the floor when he fell over. At age 17 when I was in college, my Dad died and though it wasn’t primarily because of alcohol, he did have liver cirrhosis and there had clearly been a problem. My world fell apart.
From this moment, my alcoholism grew and my mum went downhill. Since then, we both grew progressively worse with our drinking and my mum became very poorly.
In 2014, my mum had a heart attack and was brought back to life. She stayed in intensive care in a coma for weeks and we were told she had a 20% chance of survival and if she did live then she was likely to have brain damage.
After months of rehabilitation and the grace of God, my mum got back to good health and stayed dry but the inevitable happened and she drank again.
I got sober in 2017 and apart from a few one night slips, have been in AA since then. I am not 4.5months continually sober.
My mum is still drinking and she has advanced liver cirrhosis and early signs of alcoholic brain damage. She is very poorly and has been in and out of hospital since 2014 with some periods of abstinence. I have had to detach with love and put my own recovery first and it’s so hard to do this. I am only just beginning to see the devastating effect that alcoholism has had on myself and the rest of the family. It’s heartbreaking but there is hope because I am sober today. I am having therapy and able to talk with my amazing sister about the situation but it doesn’t make it any easier. I pray that my mum finds her way to recovery but for now I am powerless. Whatever happens with my mum, I know I will be okay one day at a time if I keep talking about how I feel and keep asking for help. We can’t get through this alone.
I hope this post helps somebody to reach out and to know that there is always hope for the still suffering alcoholic and families of alcoholism.
+- It’s taken a long time to realise and acknowledge the impact of growing up with alcoholic parents (David)
My mum and dad were both alcoholics and it was tough. They’d both pass out on the sofa by around 8pm every evening having drunk up to 6 bottles of wine between them. My earliest memory is of hiding at the top of the stairs while my dad drunkenly argued with my step-brother and sisters. I never saw them again after that night and I made a promise to myself to never drink when I was a grown up.
My dad died a couple of weeks after my 18th birthday and although I know that within him was a kind and funny man, my memories are tainted by his drunkenness. I vividly remember him shouting at me as a young child and throwing me across the room. I remember coming in crying and bleeding having hurt myself on my skateboard and him drunkenly laughing in my face. And I remember him putting his fists up and challenging me to box him.
As a child I was jealous of my friends having parents who could, and wanted to, engage with them and I became very introverted. As I got older I began to think it was cool that my parents plied me with alcohol from the moment I started secondary school and discouraged me from doing homework or respecting education in any way. I could have friends over and they wouldn’t care. I could bunk off school. And I could leave the house after 8pm safely knowing they’d be passed out anyway.
But as I got older I realised it was affecting me and the person I was becoming. I moved out at a young age, when my friends were still at school, got a full time job in the charity sector and have focused my life on my work for the past 14 years. Six years ago I had a child who is my world. And it was having her that made me come to realise the true impact of parenting on a child.
I’m sadly separated from my daughter’s mum but I see my daughter every weekend and one weekday evening a week, I’m really lucky we’re so close. I’m committed to being the best dad I can possibly be, and I can’t understand how anyone couldn’t be. But that’s what alcoholism does.
Recently, I’ve been reading up on personality traits of adults who grew up with alcoholic parents and it’s obvious the impact on me has been profound. I display all the traits – from low self-esteem to being terrified of personal criticism, and from isolating myself to judging myself harshly and everything in between.
But conversely, understanding the impact has made it easier for me to be more comfortable with who I am (finally, at the age of 32), start to ease up on how harshly I judge myself and focus on the positive sides of some of these traits, and also what I am in control of.
I know I have an overwhelming sense of responsibility and that’s why working in the charity sector suits me. I know I’m likely to isolate myself and so I can check myself when I’m doing this and pull in the other direction. And I’m still my own person, my parents have impacted my life hugely, but I’m in control of it too.
I’m optimistic for the future – I have a wonderful daughter, a great career and I’m learning to focus on, and be kinder to, myself.
I’ve never spoken to anyone about my childhood, or the impact it has on me to this day. But I wanted to write this to help break down the stigma and help others to start the conversation. I wanted other adults, and children still going through this now, to know that they’re not alone. Thousands of children are affected by alcoholism and it’ll affect us all in different ways. Acknowledging what’s happened, watching out for the negative impact of it, and finding someone to share your experience with will all help.
Charities like NACOA can be that someone. I’d recommend anyone going through this, or affected by it in their childhood, to get in touch with them.
+- My experience (Ffion)
My name is Ffion and I am 24 years old and I am a child of an alcoholic, but I’m also a daughter a friend and girlfriend.
I will not let my childhood define my life, but I will use my experiences to make better choices and live life feeling great full knowing that it could have been worse and that it is worse for a lot of people.
My dad is an alcoholic… I’ve always tried to make it common knowledge because I’ve never wanted anyone to try and insult or upset me by saying it.
I know what he is and I wish I could change it, but something at some point went wrong for my dad and I believe that’s why he chose this life. I believe that drinking every day is self-inflicted, It was his choice after all…but I believe that being alcohol dependant is an illness, An illness that rips through family’s and relationships…this illness causes more than just physical damage.
I feel like I was born at 16. I can’t remember much of my childhood and I don’t have many memories of my dad and a lot of them have been tainted and moulded by other people’s memories and story’s. Even though I didn’t grow up living with my dad his actions still affected me. But I don’t know any different so I can’t complain. Life would have been a lot harder if I had the perfect family and suddenly things changed, but I never had the perfect family. My dad has always been this way but luckily my mum is strong, loving, kind and beautiful and helped me grow to be the woman I am today.
I don’t want my story to be about how it has affected me or how it has stopped me from doing things, because it hasn’t. My childhood has made me who I am and I’m happy with that… I am strong, I am forgiving and I have the understanding that life isn’t always perfect but every choice in life and any decision in life I make is down to me. I know I want a better future for myself and I have worked so hard to get where I am and I am proud. I know that when I have my own children I will make sure they know that they are loved and can achieve anything in life if they want to.
+- It doesn’t matter what you go through in life you can always reach your goals if you work for them (Sarah)
My father passed away from a brain tumour in May at the age of 54.
My father had been an alcoholic for as long as I can remember and I am more than certain that the abuse he gave his body through alcoholism caused his brain tumour.
I remember the good and bad times I’ve had with my father but I can’t help but grieve for the man I knew he could be even before he died. Sober dad was great, he would play all sports with me and my brother and teach us everything we needed to know to be great players at most sports. Drunk dad was horrendous, he was violent to our mother, selfish, not very friendly and was someone I never wanted to be around.
My mother and father divorced when I was 11 due to my father being an alcoholic and violent, I remember nights when I was as young as 5 sitting up with my mother hoping if I was with her he wouldn’t hurt her but he always did.
My father went into Rehab for a short period and that 6 months, when he was sober we were all so happy… it didn’t last.
My father and I broke contact due to him moving away and me joining the Army. We didn’t speak for a few years in those years, I had joined the army, deployed on numerous operations, promoted and had married my wife Katy – he had missed it all.
My father moved back to Wales and this enabled us to reconnect, not very often as I was in the army but often enough for him to be involved with my family. He hadn’t changed he was still the alcoholic father but the effort he put into my little girl was different and I appreciated him for that.
I’m so glad we did reconnect as now I know we didn’t have long. I’m so sad that nothing was enough to make my father want to beat his demons and stop drinking, I often ask the question why wasn’t I good enough? It’s strange even tho we didn’t see or speak for weeks at a time I finding myself missing him so much now he has gone and wish that things could of been different. I think I’ve been grieving sober dad for so long now that he’s gone it’s just doubling my grief.
After everything I have been through it never stopped me striving to be the best I could be, I have been in the military for 16 years and have just recently been selected for a late entry commission, this just shows it doesn’t matter what you go through in life you can always reach your goals if you’re willing to work for them.
I reached out to NACOA as I want to help children/adults that have alcoholic parents as when I was going through it all I felt I was in my own with no one to talk to or didn’t really want to talk due to the embarrassment of it all.
+- Breaking the Cycle (Lisa)
I have spent months reading other peoples experience of growing up with an alcoholic mother or father, how this has impacted on them and the experiences and trauma continue to impact them into adulthood. I have finally decided to tell my story and hope that it will help someone else know they are not alone in this and what they are experiencing and going through is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
I have always been a high achiever; someone who pushes themselves to do well and work for what I want in life. I am also a self-doubter, needing reassurance and full of anxiety and feelings of never being good enough. I am the daughter of an alcoholic mother and I have lived through some horrendous experiences in my life, but I refuse to be defined by them. I refuse to be the same mother to my children that my own was to me.
My mother has a relationship with drink that is abusive, volatile and scary. She fails to acknowledge she is an alcoholic and refuses to acknowledge the fact that she lost custody of myself and my siblings because she drank, neglected us, put us in danger and that angers and upsets me so much.
I am the eldest of 4 children that my parents had together. My father is the most caring, hardworking man that put up with my mother’s drinking and abuse for years. My mother spews hatred about the man that stepped up and took myself and my siblings before we ended up in care. She belittles him and talks about him in the most hateful ways and there is an underlying jealousy and rage that he was the parent she never was. The part for me that I find challenging is my mother’s version of events and what I remember experiencing. There is no apology and no recognition of what she has put me through and continues to put me through and that is hard to digest.
I am 32 years old now with 4 children of my own. Having my own children has made me angry and even more upset that my mother chose drink over me and continues to choose drink. I grew up worrying about what state I was going to find her in, what she was going to do next and the lies she would spew. She has assaulted neighbours. She has been in court. She has had numerous boyfriends and they have fallen into her life of drink and abuse. The cycle continues and two of my siblings have issues with addictions and it breaks my heart.
I have spent my life yearning for a mother who I could laugh with, share experiences of motherhood with and turn to when I needed help and support. My mother is never going to be that person and I have learned to fend for myself over the years. I am always there for my children and the one my siblings turn to and my father. I have taken on the helping role because I refuse to be the victim in this or feel sorry for myself. There are days I cry and I feel overwhelmed but I have a supportive husband and 4 amazing children that are my focus and my motivation for doing well and moving through my pain.
I work as a social worker and my training has helped me understand the feelings I am going through. My life experience has helped me to be a better practitioner with my service users (although I do not work in children’s services, as I found it too close to home). I am able to use my experiences in my work to help others – that’s called overcoming my pain and hurt and turning it into something positive.
My mother continues to drink and bring drama wherever she goes and for years I have always tried to be there for her regardless of what she put me through. My husband has always been clear with me that nobody would expect me to do what I have, given the pain and neglect this woman subjected me to and the lack of her remorse. My professional head analyses her behaviour and looks and why she reacts, but it doesn’t stop the pain of feeling rejected and unloved by the one person we expect to care for us. Over the next few weeks I am going to tell my stories and experiences as I find writing them down helps me off load those overwhelming feelings.
I have always loved the quote ‘In every difficulty lies opportunity’, and that’s how I live my life. You are better than you think and can achieve what you want; don’t let self-doubt and negative experiences dull your shine. You have came through all of the things that other people haven’t and you have fought to be where you are today – be proud of who you are!
Lisa, a survivor child of an alcoholic mother
+- Life – Part 5 (Simon)
In the 6 weeks that have passed since, as well as coming to terms with everything I’ve done a bit of soul searching and have reconciled myself to the following:-
– Something major happened within my mum’s body in the week between me seeing her in mid-December and just before Christmas – I suspect between then was when her liver began to fail. Could she still have been saved at that point if she’d accepted treatment? I don’t know is the honest answer, but the ultimate point is she didn’t accept treatment when she had the chance and never really tried to address the issue throughout her life so I’ve reconciled myself to the fact it’s a moot point
– Should I feel angrier at my step-dad for what happened? Certainly some family members are angry – my grandparents feel he abandoned my mum to her own devices by being out of the house every day after all the support she gave him for her treatment, even to the point I’ve had a cousin of my mum’s asking me if I was going to get the coroner involved into investigating the circumstances of her death because they think he helped her commit suicide. Just what I wanted to be dealing with in the immediate aftermath! In truth, I don’t feel anger or resentment toward him – my mum has lived that life all her life and I feared it would always catch up with her eventually. Was he in denial and not realising what was going on? Almost certainly. I am certain there was never any malice intended – he was just as devastated as us in hospital and started to blame himself for what happened. I don’t think he has any blame to shoulder.
– Should I have been more direct with my mum over the last 12 months? There’s a real one that has been eating away at me – my sister tried it and got rebuffed though. In reality I think me & Vicky did our best to just be a good son and daughter-in-law by always being in contact and being available to help if it was wanted. It was never asked for. I think if we had tried to confront her more we would also have pushed away – I tried the more direct approach as a child and that damn near ruined me. Its horrible to say but my mum made her own choices and there was nothing I could do to change that.
– Finally, how do I feel about losing my mum to alcoholism at just 60? I have a mixture of feelings. Sadness, naturally, at losing a parent. I rarely feel anger ever, but there is a level of anger and resentment that it is to something so avoidable – for a disease like cancer you can curse bad luck and say “why me?” but for alcoholism…its such a waste. Regret..or certainly a level of sadness that my mum will never see any grandkids, from either me or my sister as we are both childless currently. I’m not really sure how I will approach the subject with my own children one day either, that they will have a grandparent they will never know, but who they need to know so much about, the good and the bad.
– Overall, I feel I’ve long reconciled myself to my life’s experiences – I don’t feel I need counselling as such but I feel I can be more open and free about it now. Ultimately, I still loved my mum very much and the best way I feel I can honour her memory is to live the best life I can, and if there is ever anything I can do to help people who have gone through what I have then I’d be very much open to it.
+- Life – Part 4 (Simon)
** POSTSCRIPT – 15th FEBRUARY 2019 **
The above was written on Sunday 23rd December after the particularly difficult visit mentioned above.
My mum died just 11 days later on Thursday 3rd January 2019, one day before her 61st birthday.
It all happened very quickly, and all fell apart very quickly – at Christmas my mum and step-dad were at my Grandparents in Ringstead and I later learnt that was a visit that went very, very badly. I’ve never been told exactly what happened but I suspect there were some disputes where my mum was challenged over what was happening, and an argument with my step-dad about whether he was helping her, they left on Boxing Day then promptly went missing for 2 days.
I found this out on 27th December, after me & Vicky had spent Christmas at home with her parents. My grandparents were unable to contact my mum, and nor was I despite efforts to do so. On 28th December my mum was seriously ill at home and after much panicking by my step-dad an ambulance was called to the house, only for her to refuse all offers of treatment by paramedics who were left with no choice but to leave her back at home.
I only found out about all this after it happened after I’d had more unsuccessful attempts to contact my mum and called my Grandad. He’d been told that she’d had some blood tests taken and he was waiting for results to be called back through to him but given what happened I’m not sure if he was in fact just fobbed off a bit by either my mum or step-dad. He said he tried to talk to her on the phone whilst the paramedics were there but could only get “Shut up!” as a response.
The 29th December was a Saturday – I was due at QPR – I travelled down to Wellingborough early to try and see if I could visit the house. I got there, knocked on the door twice, stood for nearly 10 minutes but had no response from anyone. With no idea if there was actually anyone there or not, I put a note through the door addressed to my step-dad telling him I knew what was going on and to contact me if there was anything I could assist with. He’s not the greatest at communication. Even at this point I had no inkling of what was to come.
That evening, on my way back from London, I had a phonecall from my step-dad saying he had received my note, and that my mum had finally been admitted to hospital (Kettering General) that morning, which is why I had no response to me knocking the door. Initially he said I should perhaps leave it a few days, but I definitely wasn’t having that anymore and agreed me & Vicky would go down the next day. We were meant to be entertaining my dad/step-mum and step-brothers and their families that day but we had to cancel all of that.
We went down the following day and met him at hospital. He took us through to the ward where my mum was – at that point it was just a general ward where people go when they are first admitted to have various tests done and receive general treatment whilst it is decided where they go next. At this point my mum was hooked up to various drips, was severely thin and poorly coloured, incredibly frail and whilst recognising us was very disorientated. So much so that she kept hearing things we didn’t say, and whilst drifting in and out of sleep told us she could feel her cat sitting at the end of the bed.
We had a chat with the doctor who told us the treatment she was having – namely that she was extremely malnourished so was being drip fed vitamins/proteins etc whilst also having her stomach flushed out. At that point they couldn’t tell us anymore but hoped to move her to the gastrointestinal ward. He was estimating a stay of about 4-5 days.
There was one point whilst we were there that she kept telling us all to go, though we didn’t. She also refused to eat any of the lunch that she was served, despite the state she was in.
We spent about 5 and a bit hours there in the end. When we left my mum did manage to sit up to give us a hug which was nice, and it would end up being the last time we’d actually speak to her or have a hug.
New Year’s Eve was back to being a normal working day so me & Vicky returned to Leicester and went to work. Still no real inkling of what was to come. I spoke to my step-dad that evening who told me she had finally been moved to the gastro unit, and had also spoke to a counsellor about her alcohol problems. That was a concern of ours at one point – what happens after? It was all very well being in hospital and being treated but I was sceptical that unless something really changed dramatically my mum wouldn’t come out and go straight back to how she was.
We celebrated New Year at home quietly, and planned to go down the following afternoon for visiting hours in the gastro unit.
New Year’s Day came and we had a happy morning running a parkrun double in Leicester, talking in fairly general terms to friends about my mum being in hospital and going down to visit that afternoon. We travelled back down to Kettering and made our way up to the gastro ward, only to find no sign of my mum anywhere, not even a name listed on the patient boards that are up in the reception areas (that oddly the staff tell you off for reading even though its fixed to the wall in plain sight!) We asked a nurse if they knew where my mum could be, and they responded that my mum had been taken down to the Intensive Therapy Unit overnight and had my dad (or step-dad as it was) not told me? No, as it was.
Now, rather naively, we had no idea what the ITU was. Or more to the point we didn’t realise it was the slightly softer name given for the Intensive Care Unit. We made our way to the unit, only realising what it was when we got to the door and had to press a buzzer to be asked to be let in. My step-dad met us at the door looking very fearful and telling us to brace ourselves. Heart pumping, we followed him in and at the far ward was my mum in one of the intensive care beds, unconscious, tubes everywhere, plugged up to various machines which it only cottoned on over the next few hours were actually life support units.
It turned out in the early hours of New Year’s Day, whilst doing the rounds on the gastro ward, a nurse had found my mum on her side, having vomited, and in a very poor state of health and at that point was rushed down to ICU. They tried to call my step-dad to tell him, but as it was 5am he didn’t hear the phone and didn’t receive any message as the answer machine didn’t work (which the hospital didn’t know about) so he had no idea she’d been moved either until he got there.
At this point I was really fearful and started to suspect things were only going to head one way from here.
The nurse on duty overseeing my mum briefly told us what was happening – namely that her liver had failed as had various other bits, but they weren’t sure if it was an infection or something worse than that. She had also been for a headscan before we got there. Although not conscious, we were told she could still hear so were encouraged to try and talk to her, although that is a very very strange thing to try and do.
Later that afternoon the doctor from the gastro unit came down and talked to us further about what was happening. Although I had started to fear it, the next bit that came from him hit me like an absolute steam train – the chances were that my mum wasn’t going to survive and the organ failure would likely to be fatal.
That is probably one of the worst sentences you could ever hear – and even though I was starting to fear it just from the situation my mum was in – when you actually hear someone else say it can really knock you sideways.
We cried, we all cried, the doctor said he was sorry and that the main consultant for the A&E unit would see us soon. I then had to get in touch with my sister in Belgium to relay the news and tell her she needed to get to the UK ASAP. She arrived the following day.
There was nothing to do other than sit at her bedside for as long as possible after that – the consultant came at about 6pm and sat us down and told us the full prognosis. He confirmed what the earlier gastro doctor had said – her organs had completely failed and whilst they were going to try some dialysis treatment on the kidneys to see if they could kickstart some recovery, which could lead to some overall recovery, it was very unlikely and we should prepare ourselves that within 48 hours my mum would pass away. He advised that she was not going to be a candidate for transplant – the timelines were too narrow, her overall health wasn’t good enough and of course the history with alcohol abuse would count against her. I had no issue with this – truth be told it never even crossed my mind that it would be a viable option. He also advised there was a chance my mum’s heart could just stop at any point, and if that happened they wouldn’t look to resuscitate, again she wasn’t strong enough to be able to cope and it wouldn’t be humane. Very sobering stuff.
At this point I then had to make the worst phone call it is probably possible to make – I had to call my grandparents to tell them what was happening, and chances are she wouldn’t be coming out alive. Regardless of how it comes about, every child should someday have to deal with a parent dying – that’s the nature of life. What shouldn’t be happening is for a parent to have to deal with the imminent death of their child. To do so, and to communicate that news, is to be quite frank absolutely heartbreaking.
I also then called my sister, to confirm what was likely going to happen, and then finally my dad. Although they have been separated for 16 and a half years now he still needed to know, and in addition I needed my dad.
We arrived at KGH that afternoon only expecting a visit of a few hours and in the end were nearly there for seven. We were also given parking permits for the hospital that enabled us to come and go as much as we wanted for 7 days without needing to pay a single day charge every day. In the circumstances, we were also allowed to be sat in the ICU outside of normal visiting hours and were given the option of staying in the family rooms they have available there – although we didn’t take this option in the end as we felt it would be a bit too intense.
That night we went to see my grandparents, then finally onto my dad, and stayed there overnight. After the day we had had I alone just needed some family support. We stayed with my dad that night to be closer to Kettering in case anything happened overnight – in fact I was expecting it to given what the consultant had told us. I had my phone next to my bed, and barely slept that night expecting a call at anytime. In the event, no call came.
January 2nd ended up being a bit of a non-event. We got to hospital as early as we could – my sister arrived at about 2pm in the afternoon, my mum was hooked up to a dialysis machine all day, she was unconscious still, but actually nothing happened. We were there for nearly 10 hours, I managed to get through nearly 2 books, and left actually feeling more relaxed than we had the previous day. I still knew it was likely to end badly, in fact the longer treatment went on with little happening it was likely something big had to happen – you can’t be hooked up to life support for an indefinite period – but it did feel a little bit like some sort of stability (spending this level of time in a hospital is a proper strange time warp experience), even though we knew that chances were a decision would have to be made the following day. It seemed even the hospital staff felt more relaxed as they asked us to keep visiting hours to just the normal ICU hours the following day (2pm onwards). Me and Vicky returned to Leicester and planned to go to work the following day.
THE phonecall then came at 4.15am the following morning. No good phonecall is ever received at 4am. We were asked to get to KGH as soon as we could. My sister was staying at my dad’s, so I then had to call her to tell her it was time. We then found ourselves driving down the M1 from Leicester to Kettering, managing to arrive around 5.30am, very much driving there as quickly but safely as possible.
We got there and the nurse on duty advised us that my mum had stopped breathing for herself just before 4am. From that point on, all of the “breathing” was machine only. Her blood pressure had dropped to dangerously low levels, her heart rate gradually getting slower. It was time.
But again, we actually had to wait til 8am when the consultants were due into work before anything more could happen as they had to make the final decision what to do. Eventually, that time came around and the consultant came in and asked us how we felt about switching the equipment off. There’s no easy answer to that question. Realistically, we knew there was no option but you always hold on to some hope. There was none. There was 5 of us there – my step-dad, me & Vicky and my sister and her partner. So we agreed to it.
It took just 15 minutes for my mum to pass away – my sister held one hand, I held the other, whilst my step-dad held her head. It was quiet, it was peaceful. All the equipment got turned off in full (even the ones showing heart rate/blood pressure – which makes perfect sense as otherwise you’d just be watching those but when all you’ve ever experienced is what you see on TV you assume it is all kept on still).
Overall, it was heartbreaking. I was emotionally exhausted. You’re left with a feeling of “what’s next?”
+- Life – Part 3 (Simon)
So lets move onto part 2, and forward 15 years, to what has been given me anxious days and nights over the past 12 months…
In the years between 2002 and 2017, my relationship with mum has always remained at arms length. She’s still done stuff – she used to buy me ready meals from Iceland to take to university, I’d normally see her for dinner a few times a year, and would see her on Christmas Eve every year and around Easter, but that relationship with alcohol has always been bubbling away in the background. I’d always be anxious of what state she may be in. It’s an unspoken, unseen thing sometimes, but always there.
Over time of course, I met Vicky, the first person I shared all my history and experiences with. Vicky of course, being as wonderful aged 17 as she is 28, took it all in her stride and whilst I’ve mostly tried to protect her from witnessing the worst of my mum’s excesses, she’s still seen them from time to time. Especially when we’ve seen her in the evenings when she has been drinking, or I’ve received snarky texts or comments about dad. We’ve developed a rule between us to not contact her after 7pm, and trying to avoid seeing her in the evenings. Feels terrible to say doesn’t it really?
You may remember one of the stories I tell from our wedding quite frequently in regards to the macarena and seeing my mum the other side of the window all red faced, and drunk, doing the macarena back at me. It is so indelibly printed on my mind as it was another occasion where she was wildly drunk and I feared where she might go with it. Nowhere, thankfully that time, but I’ve still always had that anxiety of being around her in that state and the unpredictability that goes with it.
Around October 2017, having been ill for most of the year, my step-dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I feared the worst – he was 80 years old – the survival chances are hardly great. With everything having been stable (or as stable as it ever could be) for so long, I feared how my mum would cope with things changing, especially if it proved fatal.
Terribly, as it has proved.
Firstly, she stopped going to work, then lost her job. The car stopped being driven. My dad, whilst not in contact, would occasionally see her walking around Wellingborough town centre and where she lives whilst doing his part-time semi-retirement job – and wondered why she was walking to town and not driving. He speculated whether she’d been banned again (which would also explain why she stopped working given she was in Northampton). I’ve wondered this too and am not exactly sure what the truth is, and nor have I ever got a straight answer when trying to pry. I’m not really sure I want to know.
Early on in my step-dad’s cancer treatment, he had a particularly adverse reaction to his chemo and ended up contracting sepsis, and did nearly died. He thankfully recovered, but this seemed to trigger a complete collapse in my mum’s mental state.
She has been refusing to leave the house, at any point in the day, except for going to my step-dad’s hospital and chemo visits with him for his treatment. His treatment has actually, pleasantly surprisingly, gone remarkably well. He hasn’t got the all clear as such and I don’t think he ever will, but as far as I am aware everything has regressed sufficiently that he can go about living a normal life, something he has been determined to do in leading an active a life as possible.
My mum on the other hand – has just got worse and worse. She has clearly completely failed to deal with my step-dad’s illness, and I can understand how difficult it can be to deal with, but as he’s got better she’s got worse and I really struggle to get my head around that.
I’ve been trying to keep in contact as much as I can since I became aware (around January this year) of how much she was collapsing – texts during the week – which have tailed off recently – trying to see her most Saturday’s I’m going down to football (Kettering parkrun Mum’s house QPR) and each week I’m fairly fearful of what I may see.
Up to this summer she wasn’t great, but doing reasonably OK. But I now haven’t seen my step-dad there since about June time. Mum’s drinking has again been getting increasingly worse and worse. She’s not been eating. She has been losing weight rapidly, now looks incredibly gaunt and pale, and is spending most of the time drinking.
My sister visited in the late summer and went upstairs to use the loo and saw empty bottles of cider everywhere. My understanding is my step-dad has had enough and has been spending as much time out of the house as he can (he’s now 81 and has just finished a rigorous round of chemotherapy and effectively has the “all clear” to live as normally as he can – he doesn’t really need a self-destructing wife on his hands as harsh as that sounds).
My last 2 visits have been scarier.
Firstly, last week (15 Dec) – she was thinner and paler than ever, had the heating on full blast whilst being wrapped up to the nines complaining of being cold (not eating!) and had died her hair bright orange which clashed horribly whilst saying she did it because she wanted to and people had been horrible to her all her life (I never asked who/what she was referring to – it feels terrible to say but ultimately I feel she has been the master of her own demise).
Secondly, today – I had Vicky with me this time and was shocked. In the space of 8 days, she had gone grey/yellow, was shuffling around the house slowly like a frail woman 20 years her senior. She didn’t really seem interested in us being there long, or particularly with it either. I am seriously concerned she is seriously physically ill, but am utterly helpless in being able to do anything about it.
The thing with an addict is they will always reject any help, until they admit there is a problem. My sister has an even more distant relationship with my mum as she is far more blunt to her about her problems – which just leads to them arguing and my mum shutting her off. I’ve tried the more softly softly approach of being approachable, being in touch, being available to help with anything, but until my mum ever asks for help and wants to change, know nothing ever will change.
I fear it is now too late, four decades of alcohol abuse has taken its toll and I could get *that* call at any point in the near future. I may do, I may not and it may have been a particularly bad day today, I really don’t know, but I was very shaken at what I saw and don’t really know how to handle it.
I’ve had to spend the last 12 months confronting ghosts I’ve hidden and bottled away for the best part of 15 years and at times I’ve felt it a struggle to do so. I went through all of this 15 years ago and never really want to again. This isn’t a plea on my part to get lots of “are you OK?” messages – as long as I have Vicky, my remaining family and my friends, I always will be. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have days where I feel anxious about it all and can struggle a bit, or are haunted by demons of the past, which you may or may not have noticed at times. Every time I see my mum becomes one of those days at the moment. Regardless of distant relationships, she’s still my mum and she is withering away before my eyes, but what can I do? Is there more I can do? I don’t know, and it frightens me.
I feel I’ve had to hide my past and my mum’s addiction for most of my life. I guess out of a sense of shame and embarrassment, I’m not sure. I’m not sure I can really hide it any more either. I don’t really know if it makes me a bad son or not either.
I kind of feel envious of those friends who have normal relationships with their mum – I haven’t had that for a long long time. Since my parents separated, I have never once spent a night in the same house as my mum. As said – my step-mum is ace and always has been, but she still isn’t my mum. Me and dad have talked about this a lot in the past year and he gets it.
My dad dug out some old family videos recently of when me and my sister were really young – well before any of this kicked off. I actually found it quite hard to watch – the difference in my mum from then to now is astounding (physically, mentally, everything). It was also hard to watch such a happy young family of 4 with no idea of all the hurt and strife that lay ahead of it.
Now, I know I have this reputation for essays, but even 8 pages of rambling is quite some going for me. As said above, I’m sending you this purely because I can’t and don’t want to hide my past anymore, and I trust you enough to be able to open up about it.
I’ll stop now but know this – I am fine, I value your friendship, and whilst I have no idea what the immediate future holds I’m sure I can rely on your continued support and friendship.
This is quite possibly the most exposed I’ve ever made myself feel! But I need to do it.
+- Life – Part 2 (Simon)
That really is part 1 of my story – the rest of my life up to now I have had a very distant relationship with my mum – both my parents re-married – I’ve never had a particularly close relationship with my step-dad – he’s 20 years older than my mum and has always been a nice enough bloke and kind to me, but with all the damage with my own relationship with my mum I’ve never been close to him as a result.
My step-mum on the other hand has always been fantastic – as me and my sister stayed with my dad after their separation she came into our lives and helped stabilise them, and help bring us back as a normal family. She’s also normal thank God. She’s never tried to replace our mum, but she’s always been a fantastic mothering influence that I’ve never really had since my parents separated.
So if you’ve ever wondered about the exact reasons I don’t drink and never will – the above pages give you that explanation. Quite frankly, I’ve seen enough of its affects to last me a lifetime. I know that one drink, even getting drunk on occasion, won’t lead to someone going that out of control, but to be honest its never given me any inclination to even try.
If I dig deep into my psyche – I can really pinpoint it into two areas. I have seen alcohol change my mum’s demeanour from my soft, loving mum, into an unrecognisable monster out to destroy everything, and out of control of what they are doing.
1. I hate the idea of not being in control of what I’m doing
2. I hate the idea of who I could be when drunk – I have a wry smile when people tell me they’d love to see me when drunk – I don’t hold anything against them for this, they aren’t to know, but genuinely I have no interest in meeting him and am quite happy with who I am.
I also don’t want anyone reading this to think they need to feel sensitive about drinking around me – to be quite honest I don’t really care what other people do – its your life to lead as you wish, you drink as much as you like, I will help make sure you get home safe if its needed, and quite simply I enjoy your company whether you’re drinking a glass of water or a pint of finest bitter. All I’ve ever been bothered about is that people respect my lifestyle choice – which to be fair they always have (with the exception of my university football team, if you ever wish to know why I didn’t enjoy the university experience…).
Before I move onto part 2, I want to put a bit of detail on my relationship with my dad, as a contrast to the one with my mum.
Put simply, my dad is my hero. I’ll try not to write too long on it but again so you help understand my psyche…
1. With everything that went on, he did his best to keep us a family of four as long as he could, before he just couldn’t take any more. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to see your family life shatter apart like it did.
2. In the time me & my sister were at my grandparents, he still came and saw us as much as he could. He took us on holiday to Devon to visit my aunt, he even would just pick us up and take us to the nearest McDonald’s just to have an evening dinner with his kids.
3. When the divorce was going through, and he feared he’d have to sell the family house to pay for everything, he found a smaller house on the same street we lived on so we could stay in the same area because he knew how upset I was at the thought of leaving our area.
4. In the end, he took on loads of debt to re-mortgage the house to the hilt so the three of us could stay in the family home, and he nearly took on a second job at a Tesco Express to help pay for it (in the end, he didn’t need to do that, but the fact he was willing to make that sacrifice means the world).
5. We always joke about it in the family now – but he became a master in making mashed potato from Cadbury’s Smash powdered mash – simply to keep trying to give his kids as normal meals as he could whilst working 45 hour weeks. It’s bloody horrible stuff, give me real mash anyday! But it’s the sentiment and what it means that keeps it special still. Can’t eat it now mind.
6. He kept taking me to QPR – giving me some sense of normality, continuity and Father/Son days out. So many things change in life but your football team never does – and even now for me the Father/Son days at football remain special and our time together. He’s 60 next year, so hopefully around for a long time yet, but genuinely I’m not sure if I could face going on my own as and when he is no longer around.
7. We don’t always agree on everything, but ultimately he is the rock that has helped keep my life together when I so easily could have fell apart as that timid little 12 year old in 2002.
8. I will never ever blame him for what happened to us – the drinking started long before he met mum, and carried on long after.
9. He is a soppy git and that has passed onto me…
+- Life – Part 1 (Simon)
If you’re reading this its because you are someone I consider a close enough friend, and I trust you enough, that I’m finally willing to unveil the truth about parts of me and my history that I’ve kept under wraps for a very long time, and for the most part have found very difficult to talk about and have instead preferred to shut away in a dark corner of my mind where it can’t come out to hurt me. Most of the time.
I apologise in advance if at times this seems jumbled, it’s really just spilling out my thoughts and my story best as I can. You are a friend, and I value your friendship, and its quite possible I may need that friendship and support more than ever over the coming months.
You may have noticed at times over the last year, and I’ve alluded to it a couple of times on social media, about struggling with some mental health aspects and anxiety. This really is the cause of most of it, and I apologise for those times I may have seemed distant, or moody, or grumpy, it really isn’t you.
This story, I guess, mostly comes into two parts, so let me start.
First – the ultimate truth – I am a child of alcohol abuse.
Imagine, if you will, a child, aged just six or seven, who assumes everyone’s mum keeps a glass of cider, or beer, or whatever, in a kitchen cupboard whilst doing the ironing. Out it comes, take a sip, back in the cupboard. Or in the airing cupboard whilst clothes are being put away, or in a bedside table, or even at work when the kids are off school with no-one else able to take them and the bosses aren’t around.
You assume its normal, because its your mum, and at that age you know no better. You grow up of course, and realise it isn’t normal at all, and that no-one else’s mum does that. They drink tea, or coffee, or juices and water.
My mum has hardly ever eaten anything either, I can remember the dinners for me and my sister would be fairly basic, my dad would come home from work and have a normal dinner, then my mum wouldn’t eat anything and later in the evening would have just a sandwich at most, with a glass of alcohol of course.
My dad, for a long time, was blissfully unaware, like the rest of us, of how much of a problem there was.
I think me and my sister were for the most part, relatively protected, but there became a period where my dad realised more and more that there was a problem – there was a time a schoolfriend’s mum told him his kids had been picked up from school with their mum’s breath smelling of booze, or the times credit card bills increased more and more and the statements were going missing.
This all gradually started to come to a head when I was about 11 or 12, and my parents marriage was definitely showing the strain from this. We had a family holiday to Majorca where my mum was ordering 2 mini bottles of brandy on the 6am flight out of the UK, and then spent most of the holiday drinking every day and night. Blazing rows occurred, me and my sister hated it and were upset by it, and my dad must have felt a very very lonely man.
My dad has talked to me on this recently, about everything he tried to keep things normal. He tried persuading my mum to stop, or to only drink in the evenings, or weekends if she must, but nothing ever really took effect.
It was the 2001/02 school year that everything fell apart. I remember one evening where my mum was her usual drunk self, and there was a blazing row, and it was at that point my parents marriage was over – I remember my dad saying he didn’t want a divorce as he wanted to keep the kids together with their parents, but that they were effectively over. I don’t blame my dad for this and I never have done for further reasons I’ll get to later no doubt – but obviously at 12 years old whose happy home life has been gradually deteriorating, to then have it blown open like that was pretty devastating.
From thereon in, things just went out of control. Mum’s drinking became ever more open, ever more frequent, to the point I doubt she was ever sober that much.
Some of these next memories, and the exact order in which they occur, have become a bit fuzzy over time, but at the same time are impossible to forget.
Firstly, there was the time after a row where my dad tried to leave the house and drive somewhere just to get away, and my mum tried to chase him out of the house and then grab on to the car as he tried to drive away, before inevitably being dragged along the pavement slightly, cutting her feet open, until my dad then stopped as he realised just what she had been trying to do, at which point they came back in and he tended to her wounds.
Then there were the times she went missing. Three times I remember this happening. The first time I can’t really remember much about, but she basically disappeared from the house without anyone knowing, leaving my dad to then be driving around random streets and lanes around Wellingborough and the surrounding countryside trying to find her. On this occasion, she came back home.
The second time I can never forget – this would have been about November 2001. It was a Sunday – I was due to play a football match over at Higham Ferrers (this would have been a U-13 junior match) and after another row my mum had just disappeared again, this time threatening we would never see her again.
I always was a timid kid and at the time a bit of a mummy’s boy, and following this I ended up having my grandparents (on my mum’s side) taking me to Higham to play in the match whilst my dad was left again searching the roads for wherever my mum could have disappeared to, this time with the police involved too. Obviously, I could not focus on the match at all, being absolutely terrified at what was happening and where my mum was. Bizarrely, if I remember right, we actually won the game and I played OK, but I had to do so with all of that going on in the background, with no teammates or manager having a clue.
This time it was the police who found my mum – parked down a random country lane somewhere (I never have been told where exactly…) in the car, with it full of brandy, and also packs of tablets. Whether she ever fully intended to try and kill herself, I don’t know and don’t really need to, but she was of course arrested for drink driving, but then rather than going to court was actually sectioned under the Mental Health Act and sent to a rehab place in Northampton, whilst also banned from driving for 2 years.
I remember in some respects feeling quite happy at this when we went to go see her at rehab – even naïve 12 year old me by this point knew things were out of control, but we thought this would be the place to get sorted, to stop it, and to go back to being a normal happy family. She was on a course of medication of tablets that were supposed to stop you wanting to drink, or to make you sick if you did.
This of course, if you haven’t guessed by now, is not what happened at all. She left rehab, stopped taking the tablets, told everyone she was fine, then carried on exactly as before.
The third time was the most explosive…or upsetting. It was a Tuesday night, and at this point my aunt (dad’s sister) had come up to stay with us to try and help the family out whilst my mum kept being unstable. I remember having Sky Sports on in the lounge keeping track of football scores (QPR were playing at Cardiff that night, and were 2-0 up before throwing it away to draw 2-2 in typical QPR fashion…) whilst me and my sister had the door shut to try and avoid hearing another row breaking out, this time with my aunt involved as well.
And then…she just left, again. Except this time on foot as she couldn’t drive. Cue another search, with emergency services involved, and then another time being dragged home, this time by the ambulance service. By this time it was probably around 11pm, and I remember being on the bannister watching the next unfolding scene through floods of tears, with my mum quite simply abusing the ambulance staff, swearing at all and sundry, whilst increasingly exasperated and frustrated paramedics simply want to get rid of this drunk crazy woman.
Again, getting a bit fuzzy on the exact timelines, but it would have been around this time that enough was enough, and with divorce proceedings on the way we got to a point where on a Sunday, we all moved out – me & my sister went to my grandparents in Ringstead (about 20 mins from Wellingborough), my dad moved back in with his parents. This was in the run-up to my sister’s GCSE’s, whilst for me it was just regular year 8 work. My grandparents drove us to school and back from their village (approximately a 30 mile round trip) every day for 6 weeks whilst we stayed there. Again, no-one at school knew, no teachers, no friends, no-one except the family. I never felt able to tell anyone.
After 6 weeks me & my sister moved back home – we never should have done in hindsight – but my grandparents felt we should go back home to mum. Dad stayed with his parents for good then until the divorce was finalised – a bloke in his early 40s having to live with his parents after his marriage had collapsed! I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for him.
The period from moving back in to my parents divorce finally being finalised was terrible – my sister is much fierier than me (in fact given how timid I am for conflict she’s probably got enough fight for the pair of us!) and she’d be much more open with my mum about all her drink problems and would confront her every night and there’d be huge rows. I’d get more upset at this, and would get to a point where when my mum was laid out comatose most nights would sneak around the house finding all the alcohol I could and pouring it down the sink thinking if she couldn’t drink it she wouldn’t drink at all. Of course that’s terribly naïve and not how it worked at all, she just bought more the following day, but at that age I felt desperate enough to do anything.
It was June 2002 my parents divorce finally went through – my mum had bought a new house on the next estate up – probably about a 15 minute walk away – with the separation proceeds, and our dad came home.
For the first 6 weeks of my parents separation, I was probably round my mum’s new house every day. After everything that had gone I was terrified of what might happen if she was left on her own too much. I helped her with decorating stuff, painting stuff, buying stuff for the house, I would cycle there every day and spend loads of time there.
The problem was, whilst all this was going on, she was still bombarding our house, and my dad, with phonecalls, begging to be taken back, saying she missed everyone, threatening to kill herself if we didn’t do anything, and obviously this upset me hugely.
Things came to an ultimate head, and this has changed my relationship with my mum forever, on the night before my 13th birthday. It was a Friday night, another night where she’d been bombarding the house, my dad asked her to stop ringing, I spoke to her a few times, begging her to stop, she was threatening again to kill herself and was whispering “goodbye” down the phone. I wanted to go straight over, but of course my dad (and quite rightly looking back) stopped me as I was upset enough as it was and couldn’t deal with it all on my own. My dad took it as attention seeking and was distraught himself at how upset his kids were getting, and after trying to tell her to stop ringing because of how upset I was, eventually took the phone off the hook, leaving me with a sleepless night.
The following day, my actual 13th birthday, I remember my dad taking me to Northampton to go buy some video games, before we then stopped at mum’s house to make sure she was reasonably ok. The house was full of empty bottles, and tablet boxes, and she was very very shaky and frail that particular morning. I do wonder just how close she did come to actually killing herself on this occasion. We helped tidy all the mess away before dad left me to spend an afternoon with mum, but that was the relationship changed forever – from that point on my contact with her got more and more distant, very much keeping it at arm’s length.
I really did this to protect myself – the above all sounds a bit of a character assassination of my mum. Of course she wasn’t always like that, there have been times when she’s been a great, normal, loving mum. But ultimately, everything in her life has always played second fiddle to alcohol, and her need for it, and I think that was the moment I ultimately realised that, and the only way to protect myself from more upset and strife, was to step away and leave her to her own devices – only one person could make the change with that relationship with alcohol, and it wasn’t me no matter how much I thought I could at that age.
+- For those that didn’t recover (Clare)
It would have been my father’s 82nd birthday today and it is always a time when I find myself thinking about him and all of the others who don’t recover from addiction. With several years of sobriety behind me I sometimes take it for granted; but every time I remember my Dad’s struggle with alcohol it really hits home just how lucky I am. He drank in a way that was destructive and unhealthy for as long as I can remember and by the time he died at 67, his addiction had worn down and broken him. The most upsetting part for me is knowing how unhappy he was and that he never found the peace of mind which recovery brings.
I know from my own drinking how feeling trapped in your addiction makes it almost impossible to really, fully enjoy anything in life; or to ever feel truly relaxed and at peace. There’s always the nagging knowledge at the back of your mind somewhere that there’s something very wrong and it’s only a matter of time before you’ll have to deal with the shame, mess and despair brought about by the next drinking induced disaster. I lived with that nagging inside my head for years before I sought help; and several more years before I eventually got sober. Even at times when something good happened or when I was trying my best to happy, it was always there; lingering at the back of my brain; at night when I was trying to sleep and again in the morning when I woke up…that feeling that you’re messed up but too ashamed to admit it. I didn’t think it would ever go away. I thought it was part of me.
I can’t remember how far into sobriety I was before I realised those nagging thoughts were gone, but finding peace of mind has been the most life changing aspect of recovery for me. I found that I could live, go about my daily business and go to sleep at night without a constant sense of impending disaster. With peace of mind came things I never thought possible; like the happiness that comes from contentment and a quiet life, free from drama. Don’t get me wrong, life now is busy and challenging and I still make mistakes, but I no longer feel that it’s predestined to end in disaster. Recovery has also given me reason to believe that I have the ability to be happy and to somehow find a way through whatever ups and downs life brings.
When I think about my Dad and the fact that he never got to experience this peace and contentment, it just crushes me. He was a good person who deserved to feel happiness and self-worth; but it’s just about impossible to have these when you’re trapped in addiction. He had so much potential, so much to offer, and I think he tried; almost till the end; to do the right thing and contribute something positive to the world. But alcohol will always prevents you from achieving your potential and the waste is enormous – wasted time, opportunities, money, energy….So when I think of my Dad and my heart breaks because he never escaped from his addiction, I also feel motivated. To appreciate my recovery and enjoy to the fullest the peace of mind that it brings. To make the most of the opportunities that open up to me and keep pushing myself to do and experience more.
In this way, I’m living my recovery for the both of us. It’s my responsibility to live my best and fullest sober life, not just for me but also for my Dad and for all those others who we’ve lost to addiction.
+- Don’t wake the Ogre (Dottie)
A family friend once said to me “you were such a solemn child, we rarely saw you smile”. I wasn’t just solemn I was desperately unhappy, anxious, frightened and trying to get by on my wits, constantly watching and trying to judge the mood, smoothing things over and not do or say anything to cause my Dad to “turn”. This pattern has followed me into adulthood. My Dad was a functioning alcoholic most of the times, interspersed with non-functioning spells where he would go missing leaving me to look after my younger brother both of us terrified of the dark and being left alone. I took on the role of acting parent. He was a policeman of some standing in the local community, well respected for his tough and fearless character, he was a desperately unhappy, intelligent, lonely man who dealt with his demons through drink.
My mother left when I was 13 and my brother was 11. It had been an unhappy marriage and she just couldn’t take anymore. I think she thought that by leaving it would be the short sharp shock that he needed and that she would return and that things would improve, however his ego prevented him from taking her back, he never forgave her for publicly humiliating him.
So I was left at the age of 13 to play Mum.
I cooked and cleaned as best I could, washed school uniforms, his uniform, did the shopping with what little money was left, this was in the day when a policeman’s wage was poor and the “entertainment” budget came first. There was a key on a piece of string behind the letterbox. I still can conjure up the feeling of apprehension at that door, not knowing what I was going to find once I went in, he could be asleep snoring on the sofa and woe betide us if we woke him, so I’d cook tea in silence trying not to wake the angry ogre. If the house was empty then that was a really bad sign ….
When he was on a night shift, things were fine he worked and came home to sleep. An early shift meant that he should finish at 2pm. The bus stopped right outside our window and came every 20 minutes. We awaited the arrival of every bus from 2:20 pm, rushing to the window to see if he was coming home or still in the pub, often every 20 minutes until 6 or 7 pm when all hope had dwindled and we were left with a sense of dread. This meant an early night to get out of the way. I still find it hard to settle and relax in the evenings. Often he would come home roaring, drag us out of bed and order that I cooked him some food. He was never particularly physically aggressive with me but was with my brother. It was worse if he came home with some of his drunken cronies, there would be no sleep until they left in the early morning regardless of the fact it was a school night.
Once during my O levels when I couldn’t take anymore I went and poured it all out to the doctor saying I couldn’t cope and could she do something. She sent me next door to social services where I saw a leftie bearded hippy social worker who asked this 15 year old child at the end of her tether “what do you want me to do about it…. if you want to pursue it the only thing I can do is to put you both into care” I soon backtracked and he ignored my call for help. It took so much for me to share our shameful secret, in my childlike naivety I thought they could just talk to my dad and it would all improve.
I left home at 16 when his drinking was particularly bad, I found the courage to stand up to him but feel so desperately bad at abandoning my brother. But I had to go. I was an intelligent girl and would dearly have loved to have gone to university and study law but there was no support and I just needed to escape that unhappy house. I managed to find a decent job in the Civil service but have always felt that I’ve under achieved, staying with a safe and steady position, not having the confidence to take a risk. I’m certainly not a risk taker and constantly look out for troubles, often trying to pre-empt them and devise a coping plan before they even happen. Always seeing the danger in every situation.
I loved him so much, and still do, although he died 10 years ago! I still miss him.
He was all we had.
I never doubted that he loved us fiercely, he was flawed and did the best he could. He had his own demons that he never faced. For the last 10 years of his life he was totally sober and I got to know the man behind the booze but the damage was done. He was a loving grandfather for those 10 years and my boys would never understand the man that he’d been before. My brother has rage issues and spent some time in prison. I have trust issues and am still a people pleaser, I hate confrontation and seek approval to validate myself. I have problems with emotional intimacy. I don’t really see my brother it’s almost as if it’s too painful to be reminded and it’s easier to disassociate. I strongly believe that we’re all products of our childhood, however we have the choice to follow the examples we’ve been set or to use them as a lesson and not repeat the pattern. I have a strong marriage to a good man and have raised 2 well-adjusted sons and I’m proud of that.
+- Dad, do you remember? (Your 48 yr old little boy)
I was about 6 years old, it was the mid 1970s, we were sitting on the sofa watching Dr. Who together. I can still smell you while you have your arm around me keeping me as safe as ever. You were wearing your black & red check work shirt, I can feel your muscles in your big arms, I can see your work hands as big shovels with thick skin and fingers like big sausages. Me and my sister always wanted you to do that thing where you put your hands on your head and move your muscles up and down on your arms to the music just like the funny man used to on the TV, which you did and we all used to laugh and laugh and laugh!
Dad, about 20 years later I’m now watching you die in front of me in intensive care. You’re plugged into a machine, your big muscles have gone and now they are just the size of my wrists, your shovel hands and sausage fingers are now skin and bone, your arms and legs are covered in bruised skin. I hate to see you like this but all I can do to help you is cover your feet because they are cold…..
12 Months before this the doctor said if you didn’t stop drinking you would die ….12 months later, you died!!
Dad, we all loved you but that was not enough for you. I know sometimes life is crap and I know you had your fair share of it but so did Mam but she is still here fighting her corner, on her own, some 20 years later. You embarrassed me as a father, you spoke to me like shit and never showed me any love in my older years of growing up when I needed you. You never encouraged me or taught me anything about life when all I wanted was exactly that, so I’d just give you a wide berth and you did the same to me unless you just wanted somebody to shout at or put down that is.
Dad, we would make excuses for you: “he’s not that drunk today” or “he deserves a drink.” I watched you walk my sister down the aisle drunk. I’d watch you eat your food while you could just about get it into your mouth because you were so drunk. You would embarrass us at Xmas. I listened to you crying in bed drunk the night my Nan died. I listened nearly every night to you and Mam screaming and shouting downstairs. I’d see empty bottles of whisky in the kitchen, hoping I would never see a full one reappear but they did. I couldn’t get on in school due to these things but I was good at day dreaming so I would just drift off and wish I was somewhere else other than there. I watched as you lost your job, your self respect and your grip on life as we lost our house and you. I was an angry kid and would always be in trouble with the Police and do anything without a care in the world – maybe now I know why. I’m surprised I never ended up in prison, and I’m sure that was my Nan’s doing as she watched over me, because that was truly my destiny.
So here I am Dad, over 40 years later since that episode of Dr. Who, not far off the same age as you were then. Have a guess what? There is a lady Dr. Who now! Funny how life changes eh?! I’m sitting in my summer house with my dog on a lovely, warm, sunny early October afternoon as I managed to finish work early. I have progressed at lot since the last time I saw you. I moved to a place 200 miles away where nobody knows anything about me so they can’t judge, they just know me as me. I met my best friend who I married 10 years ago. I never ever thought I would find her but I did, we have a lovely house, good jobs and a fantastic life together. We are a loving couple, always being silly and messing around, laughing, travelling the world on amazing holidays or just watching Coronation Street on the sofa with the dog – whatever it is we are doing, we are happy…I’m happy, I’ve never met anyone who would be in my corner as much as my fantastic wife has, pretty much like your wife was, eh?
Dad, I loved you and then I hated you but now I just feel sorry for you because you felt that drinking yourself to death was better than staying with your family. How wrong you were….
Dad, I only have one picture of you by choice – it’s black and white and it was when you were in the RAF when you were in your 20s. You are smiling and I can hear you laughing in the picture. You look so happy and care free….I wish I knew you then, maybe we could have been friends.
This will be the last time I will speak to you so….
“Good Night Dad, God Bless”, maybe I’ll see you another time…
Your 48 yr old little boy x
+- My Name is Mary Cecil
My name is Mary Cecil and I live on Rathlin Island (pop:150) just off the coast of Northern Ireland. I was born and grew up in Glasgow, with my four brothers. My father’s family came from Rathlin and I came to the island to find my roots, in my early twenties.
I became the mother of a large family and with my late husband, Tommy Cecil, a famous campaigning figure in Rathlin, set up one of Ireland’s first International Dive Centres which brought groups from all over the world. My husband died tragically when he was fifty one, in a diving accident exploring a shipwreck, and so I was plunged into widowhood with our young children.
This was a most serious setback and traumatic for my young children so I had to move to the mainland for their needs, although it nearly killed me to leave. We survived and along the way I managed successfully several international tourist businesses for community groups and also achieved a public appointment for a Criminal Legal Aid Board.
My children grew up to be successful people in their own rights, with one of my sons obtaining an OBE for services to the community & refugee work in Greece.
Now today I am back living on Rathlin and retired from my busy working life.
I am a published poet and enjoy reading. However I attribute my survival against the most adverse circumstances to the tenacity developed as a child with an alcoholic parent, my father.
My father was a highly intelligent man, well educated, who loved classical music, philosophy, astronomy and mathematics. He was called up in WW2 and after seeing a concentration camp during the war, he lost all belief in God and became an alcoholic.
My brothers and I suffered the most terrible poverty and it scarred us all. When I was a child the humiliation and insecurity tortured me, and other children can be so cruel.
In my teenage years I rebelled against my father and would not listen to any advice, good or bad, which he gave. I made some bad choices and it wasn’t until I reached my middle twenties that I was able to re-assess my father as a person and be able to begin to come to terms with his failures and understand that underneath it all he was essentially a good man who suffered.
He gave me an appreciation of the finer qualities in humanity, to be caring and grateful and today I acknowledge that ultimately life can be cruel but it can develop the strength you need to survive and pass on those experiences to help others in need.
So I am glad to see that there is greater recognition of the needs of children with parents who are suffering from addiction and hopefully bring some relief and joy into their young lives. The knowledge that people care and they are not alone will make a difference.
+- Poem – My Father’s Addiction (Mary)
My father’s addiction,
The poverty and the pain
The abiding sorrow,
The pervasive shame
His suffering and mine,
The struggle to escape
The scars of a childhood,
A defining landscape
The war and life,
The erosion of self
The grimmest reality,
Left on a shelf
The book of life,
The key to understand
The struggle to find,
What made this man
The poverty that trapped us,
The shame that we knew
Insecurity and turmoil,
Our deadly brew
Our lives could be different,
Our childhoods were grim
Lost in addiction,
That was the sin
Feeling like you want to get away from it and being unable to live your own life, sometimes leading to difficulty with relationships
+- Anthony’s Story Pt II (Anthony)
When Mom finally left is the biggest blur and I have never gone over the events with my Dad. I was 14-15 by this time. She was working in a local charity shop, to this day I still struggle to remember how or why she ended up locking herself in there, drunk, constantly calling me and Dad at home to shout abuse at us. This went on for hours, phone call after phone call and eventually the Police were called, I don’t know what happened next. I remember getting a phone call from my Nan in Northern Ireland (my Mom’s, Mom) the following day or so saying my Mom had turned up there. That was 17-18 years ago, she has not been back to England since to my knowledge. Me and my Dad cleared out her wardrobes when we knew she wasn’t coming back, and I remember us filling black bags of empty bottles we had found that she had hidden. I finally felt a relief when we threw those bags away that the nightmare was over and assumed that was the point my life would go on to be a happy one.
For the next few years my Mom was at my Nan’s in Northern Ireland, but when my Nan passed away when I was in my early 20’s. I travelled over to see her on the day she died and stayed for the funeral. I knew during this time it was inevitable I would end up seeing my Mom and although I was scared to see her, I knew I had to. People tried to tell me she was off the drink, she had changed, she was getting better. Due to the traditions when someone passes away in Northern Ireland, my Nan lay in the dining room for a couple of days before the funeral. Every day in the house my Mom was drunk, and I finally lost my cool when she tried to climb inside the coffin with my Nan when she was drunk. It remains the most horrific experience of my life.
The funeral passed by and was thankfully uneventful with my Mom, I avoided being anywhere near her and that day is the last day I ever had any contact with her. Family members have told me I need to build bridges, I need to make peace with her, but I don’t want to. My only memories of her are painful ones, where she made both mine and my Dad’s life a misery.
It has taken me a long time to get to grips with those years of living with my Mom although I’ll never fully understand how things ended the way they did. When she left I assumed it was the start of a happier life, but the memories and questions I had stayed with me for a long time after and I have struggled to deal with it. I have taken anti-depressants, hurt myself, planned my suicide several times and done many things I regret which have hurt those around me. I really thought I would end up in a gutter somewhere and never felt like I really had anyone to turn to for support as I became an adult, not even my Dad. I don’t want to make excuses for the things I regret, but I needed help during those years and I was too proud to admit it. However, with the love and support of my family and meeting the woman I have now married, the woman who saved my life, I am 31 and not just surviving but living a happy life, happier than I ever thought possible. I put that down to finally accepting I am the son of an alcoholic (even though I still don’t like to talk about it much) and making sure I live my live completely different to how she lives hers. I would not change any of what has happened during my life, I think it has made me a stronger person, a person who now knows how to treat people the right way and that is the best thing my Mom has ever done for me.
+- Anthony’s Story Pt I (Anthony)
There are many stories of my Mom being drunk, abusive, violent towards mainly my Dad and my Nan, but I have picked a few that stand out. One of my earliest memories as a child was when I was about 5 lying in bed, my Dad in tears handing me his favourite ring saying goodbye to me. My Mom then proceeded to order him down the stairs with a kitchen knife pointed at his chest, ordering him out of the house with my Dad still in tears and me holding on to his Gold ring also crying not wanting my Dad to leave. I was very young but I’m sure this happened on more than one occasion, once with my Nan (my Mom’s, mom) who was visiting from Northern Ireland, being marched out of the house with a knife thrust into her face. I remember not really understanding why all this was happening but being glad when my Dad came back a day or so later and we would carry on being a happy family.
As I grew older I remember meeting my Mom after school and she would have a Premier League chocolate bar in her bag for me and I used to think she had made that trip to the shop just to get that chocolate bar for me and how great she was for it. It’s only now looking back I realise that was probably her excuse to go in to the shop to buy the bottle of cider she would also be carrying. Maybe she felt guilty for the days she overslept and didn’t take me to school so gave me chocolate? I don’t know.
I don’t really remember a time where my Mom didn’t drink, her passing out on the sofa, or getting into a drunken argument with my sober Dad was the norm. It was only as I got older I remember starting to think she had a problem. I remember having a diary and one day I had wrote down the question “why does she always have to drink?” with a little chart of how much I loved my Dad on that day, which was marked really high, and how much I loved my Mom which was really low. 3 of my cousins came to the house that night to play games and they tried to read my diary, as kids do. I grabbed my diary, tore out the page I had wrote on that day screwing it up and throwing it out of the window. Somehow my Mom ended up finding it and when everyone had left, told me how I had betrayed her for daring to write such a thing. She didn’t care that her drinking was upsetting me, and that experience was one of a few times I remember her emotionally blackmailing me to feel like I was the one hurting her, not her hurting me or the family.
My Dad worked away a lot which meant it was just me and my Mom for a lot of the time. I don’t talk about those times with my Dad, our relationship has been up and down since my Mom left and he re-married. I don’t know if he knew the extent of her drinking when he was away, and I never felt like it’s something I should be telling him at that time. She always made me feel like this was normal, and there wasn’t an issue, but I wish I had opened up more, perhaps my Dad would have understood why him re-marrying and our lives completely changing affected me so much?
Anyway, going back to before my Mom left, one night when she was passed out on the sofa after a bottle of Strongbow I felt like I needed to get away and decided to pack a little bag and run to my Nan and Grandad’s. My Grandad pulled up alongside me in his car before I had got to his house, my Mom had called and asked him to go and find me. When I got home she was upset and seemed happy to have me back, until my Grandad left, and the insults began. “you’re not my son”, “I’ll never forgive you for leaving”, “you are not welcome here, pack your bags and f*ck off” I cried, begged her to forgive me and told her she didn’t deserve a horrible son like me. Eventually she passed out again after drinking some more and I went to bed, crying myself to sleep wishing my Dad was there.
Another night we all went to a neighbour’s barbeque a few doors down and my Mom ended up in an argument with our next-door neighbour who was also there. For some reason my Dad was at home by the time my Mom was drunk and in an argument with our next-door neighbour, dragging her by the hair outside and assaulting her. I ran home, broke the glass in our front door to wake my Dad up and to get him to come and stop what was going on. Eventually the neighbour managed to get back to her house and lock the door where my Mom stood knocking her door, shouting abuse at her for what felt like hours. My best friend was our next-door neighbours’ son and from that day he never spoke to me again, not with anything nice to say anyway.
Another night, after more insults and comments about how much of a bad son I was, she had passed out on the sofa, I went upstairs and unpacked a gun that me and my Dad used to use to shoot targets in the garden. I loaded the gun and held it against my Mom’s head wanting to pull the trigger and kill her. The gun was an air gun and loaded with a pellet, in reality it would have left a big bruise and given her a bad headache but not killed her, but I was beginning to not want my Mom around anymore.
I think the day that I decided enough was enough was a day I had a friend over. It was late afternoon; Dad wasn’t there, Mom was already drunk. She was on the phone, arguing with someone which turned out to be a woman I didn’t know. She was telling this woman how she had been sleeping with her husband, she was describing the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room of this woman’s house saying how she’d had sex there and was laughing about it. I was distraught, I was hearing this for the first time, with a friend at my house who was probably desperate to get away. When she had finished on the phone she demanded my friend leave the house, shouting abuse at him, swearing at him and I was trying to argue with her to get my friend to stay. There is no way he would have wanted to stay in that environment and he eventually left, but I didn’t want to be on my own with her. After he left, I confronted my Mom on the landing at the top of the stairs about what had happened, and she grabbed me by the throat, choking me as hard as she could. I thought she was going to throw me down the stairs and I managed to kick her as hard as I could in her crotch and get away.
That experience is a bit of a blur, even though it is one of the more recent encounters I had with her, but those points stick out in my head. It was not long after this I think started to stay with my Nan and Grandad more often and leaving my Mom there on her own when my Dad was working away. I remember my Mom refusing to feed our pet dog when she was on her own, he was too old to find another home, so my Dad decided to have him put down for his own sake. It was the best thing for him, he was a rescue dog who had suffered abuse when he was a puppy and did not deserve to go through this, but this still makes me angry and wish I had done more to get my Nan and Grandad to let him stay with us at their house.
+- There have been points in my life (Katherine)
There have been points in my life I have felt that all I am is the child of an alcoholic mother.
I am the child of an alcoholic and although I’m now 42, I continue to be the child of an alcoholic today, but this is not all I am. There have been points in my life I have felt that all I am is the child of an alcoholic mother. The vivid memories of sadness, fear, shame and even guilt. I’ve overcome some of those feelings but there’s no denying the affects of my experiences.
My mum has been an alcoholic all my life; I’m 2nd youngest of 4 siblings. My mum and Dad separated when I was 9 and that’s when things deteriorated. Mum was a teacher, a single parent of 4 young children, admittedly life was hard and alcohol became her best friend. My mum struggled to maintain any consistency in our lives; she was a world class liar and a cheat. Her teaching career didn’t last long, she admits to drinking whilst teaching and she was struck off in her 50’s. Money became a problem; she started to build up her credit cards but couldn’t pay them off.
My mums drinking style changed over the years from drinking to oblivion – falling off buses, being found her in the street, to daily/maintenance drinking, to brief periods of sobriety. She would steal from friends and family to fund her habit which ended up with her serving time twice and us in care temporarily. My mum wasn’t a social drinker, she’d drink at home alone, hide it, deny it but she would also drink to cope in social situations but still hide it. I have to admit she did try to stop, we tried to make her stop, but it never lasted and we were all exhausted, frustrated and angry. There was a distinct feeing of being unsafe, due to debt, some of the alcoholic friends my mum would invite over and the not knowing what would happen next or how she would behave. There was so much tension in the house, my older sister tried to look after us but was a child herself. I left home as soon as I turned 16, my older siblings left before me – sister to University and my brother to the army, but there was still my younger brother to look out for. I dread to think what he went through when we had all gone. I won’t discuss my siblings, but my older sister passed away at 25 from a health condition and my two brothers are still around, we’re not close but they haven’t turned to alcoholism which I’m grateful for. I’m disappointed; my mum’s narcissistic temperament has affected my relationship with my eldest brother when we were so close, this upsets me a lot.
Looking back on my childhood I feel sadness for what my siblings and I endured at the hands of our Mum. Although we got through those difficult times, the price we paid will never be refunded. My mother’s alcoholism doesn’t affect me now to the same levels as it has done my entire life. I’ve managed to control my emotions, strategically place myself away from her when she drinks and am an expert in identifying her drunkenness before she even answers the phone. I still get angry though if she’s been drinking and I really can’t control that. In fact I question my own attitudes toward relationships, alcohol and drug use which on reflection is clearly linked to my experiences as a child of an alcoholic.
I remember when I was 23; I’d managed to finally convince my mum to join AA. I drove her to her first meeting, sat outside in the car for hours waiting for her with my child in the back. This was one of the best days of my life and hers too; I thought I’d cracked it. She became a different person, attending meeting after meeting, it became an addiction for her. Two years later she was a sponsor, a highly respected member of AA. After completing the 12 steps she took on the role of emergency call handler for AA, ran meetings and for the first time made some real friends. I remember feeling a little jealous of her new friends and new life, all I wanted was my sober, caring mum to myself. It got to the point where I would go to AA with her, trying to understand alcoholism myself – I was damaged too after all. I found it too upsetting; think I cried for the entire meeting. As the years passed (I think she made it to 3) I noticed she would skip the odd meeting. Rumours began to spread about my mum drinking with new members, she’d attend meetings drunk and soon enough her drinking increased until she couldn’t face returning.
And so it continued. I remember needing and wanting my mum to just be a ‘normal’ mum so bad. She now had 3 grandchildren and we desperately didn’t want them to witness her alcoholism. My brother and I struggled with this very much. When she was sober she was fun, intelligent and interesting. But she was the complete opposite when drunk. There were significant times when I needed her more – when I became a mother (3 times) my wedding day to name a few. Like others, as a family we kept her drinking a secret and we still do to some extent. As an adult I am fed up of explaining my childhood to new people. I’m not looking for sympathy but it does feel like a big part of my being and explains who I really am. Although my mum’s alcoholism doesn’t define me, there is no denying it has affected me and still does.
There is no magic potion to stop a parent from drinking, I’m sure myself and my siblings tried every trick in the book. What I have learnt is to put up a barrier to protect myself from the emotional damage caused by alcoholism – doesn’t always work but it gets easier. My mum once told me to stop asking her not to drink as this makes her drink more. This felt a little ‘blamey’, she was sober at the time but it took years for me to realise there was some truth in her words. My mum is now 75 years old, she’s just had a hip replacement and has various health conditions – none of which are linked to alcohol misuse (she says). Truthfully, we’re all surprised she’s still alive and she is in complete denial about the past or simply can’t remember. Our relationship has improved but she will often get upset when I remind her subtly about the past. Her drinking made me angry; I’ve lashed out at her in the past and regret it but signifies my feelings of desperation. There was a time I demanded an explanation, reason or maybe an apology – what good would that do! I’ve accepted alcoholism is an illness, it was out of her control and she never meant to hurt us.
It deeply hurts me to know there are children still going through similar difficulties as I did. I’d like nothing more than to be of some support, both adults and children. I’m looking into setting up a support group in my local area; I’ll start by asking my local church for some space. I would also really like to help NACOA as a volunteer, raise awareness and fund raise. Thinking about myself and what I need(ed) during some of the most difficult times, I want to be just that for someone else right now.
+- Emotions I’ve hidden for years (Clair)
I thought I would add my own story as it might relate to others
I’m 40 and my mother is an alcoholic, I’m finding just typing this extremely difficult as there are emotions I’ve hidden for many years,
I was so shocked at how everyone’s story has similarities, like how everyone hated and some still do (as I do) hate Christmas time, and that reason is “Alcohol”, and I too HATE the sound of a metal lid on a glass bottle, it makes me angry,
I have 3 brothers and I was the only girl and also the eldest, I never felt my mother loved me, but she loved my brothers and this showed in her actions,
it first came to light about her drinking (as far as my memories go) to when I was 10 years old and my mother met one of my brothers father, she married him quickly and even though they were only together for 2 years it felt a lifetime,
I went from a normal child to a terrified child within weeks, when I read others stories I realised why she stayed with this man, she would and still called him an alcoholic!, because he came home drunk after spending shopping money on booze and he would come home with a takeaway, she would lock him out and he would break his way in,
She would wake us up and drag me and my brother who was 9 at the time (my other 2 brothers came later on) and would drag us into her bed and instead of shielding us from this she would use us to help make her feel safer,
When he would smash the back door in, me and brother took turns to run to the neighbour’s house to call the police, I always remember once I slipped in our garden and I was so petrified in case he was behind me (that memory is still so vivid) then it was in our neighbours house the minutes until the police arrived would be me going through turmoil of thoughts thinking “has he got into the house and killed my mum and brother”
After this would happen and they took him to the police cells I would start cleaning the house frantically and I remember our neighbour saying “don’t do that now silly” this woman saved me many times in the coming years,
It went from that to this man dragging us out of our beds at 3am and take us downstairs where he would beat up my mother and then when they made up he would take us to the park at 5am and we weren’t allowed home until we said we loved him 100%,
What my mother forgets to mention when she tells people her pity story is she would often be the instigator of these events, I would shout in my head “mam shut up you are making him mad” she would be drunk and screaming “go on hit me go on” she knew how to push his buttons so I cannot say it was all down to him,
Along came my 2nd brother, I remember when he was a new-born and they were fighting at the bottom of the stairs with him holding my brother and he swerved from my mother and my brother hit his head on the door latch, I remember him turning blue and he was just screaming at my mother “look at what you have done” while I was panicking how I knew to blow air into his mouth fast and that would make him breathe I do not know, but I was thankful I did know,
When they married I did not go, everyone went but I remember staying on the street, I don’t know why I didn’t want to go but I remember my mother not caring either way, maybe because I knew it was an excuse for a big party and lots of alcohol
We would stay at my grandparents’ house and my gran being my gran and was scared of no one would answer the door to him holding a poker (from a coal fire) and would threaten him to leave us alone,
Once we went home and our uncle was with us and he had taken an overdose and my uncle saying “we better call an ambulance his pulse is really low” and I remember my mother saying “F*** him he can die”, looking back why couldn’t she just have told me and my brother to go upstairs we didn’t need to hear all of that,
She still says to this day she left him because he went to hit my eldest brother, whether that was true I do not know, I just knew he was there one day and gone the next,
In the space of her meeting the dad of my youngest brother, it was the most normal I knew my life to be, even though I wouldn’t have friends over from school and most days I came home to her in bed with her saying she was tired, I do remember I had one friend over and she did try she put party food bits on the table and a note saying sorry she had to go to bed as she wasn’t well, and that’s the excuse I used to use after that,
When she met the dad of my youngest brother the first night I remember hearing him laughing downstairs and me and brother going down to see what the noise was, I just knew from the 1st moment we met him that he would keep us feeling safe,
After that my mother was still really harsh to me,
When I was 12 in my few times of being a kid decided I would say to my mother I’m not staying in being grounded and she said “well ill kick you out” and I walked out the door saying “fine”,
She left me crying looking at her and my stepdad through the window (her drinking her usual vodka) and it was pouring down with rain I was crying hysterically begging to be let in but she left me and at 3am my neighbour came and got me quietly (she was in an awkward position as she was my mother’s friend but knew she treated me mean) and I slept at her house, my mother would do awful things to me yet my eldest brother took drugs and the school would ring her up and tell her to go up straight away as they found him drugged up on a field on the schools premises, you could see he was clearly on drugs yet all that was ignored and it was “we will have to get him a councillor” !
She would wake me up aged 13 and tell me about her nights out (way too much info for a 13 year old) she would tell me how she met guys and all I could think was how awful I felt for my stepdad who did anything for her
At the age of 14 I met a 19 year old guy who was my escape and also a major help in the coming years, one day he told me he needed to talk to me and took me down the beach and began to explain how my mother had cornered him and asked him if he could take her to the station as she planned on leaving us for this guy she met 6 hours away while on a night out, I remembered her telling me about him and also telling me she was sneaking off to spend a night in a hotel with him,
I felt so hurt and humiliated, I asked him to take me home where I flew in a rage and screamed abuse at her (for the first time) “how could you leave your kids for another man”,
She just came at me throwing plant pots at me angry, so I run to my gran and she said “do you blame her ?” that confused me but later in life I realised my gran was only told things by my mother who obviously didn’t tell her the whole truth,
So I ended up going to another friend (who would help me and understood what my mother was like) she put on her slippers and was up to my house straight away, she said she managed to convince her to stay (convince her to stay and look after her kids, my 2 youngest brothers were only 4 and 2 years old),
After her friend left though my mother gave me a sob story about how she was having a nervous breakdown and needed 2 weeks away with him to refresh herself or she couldn’t guarantee she would survive (funny how all this was said AFTER her friend left), so she left me to take care of 3 brothers, that’s why I’m thankful for that relationship I had with the 19 year old because I would not have been able to cope otherwise, social services called and I had to go to ring her in a phone box down the road, I had to nag her and all she would say is “I don’t have money to come back, I am trying” it must have been a few weeks before she finally came home, no thank you for anything,
In all the years I never answered her back and always was the one who sorted out everything her finances, my brothers if they got into trouble, I feel so sorry for my youngest brother as his memories are crossed with me doing the mother things for him but thinking it was my mother and vice versa,
Even though he’s 28 and I’m 40 he still will come to me if there is anything going on in the house, I remember having a tarot card reading and this man saying “you either have 2 sons or you will have 2 sons and explained in detail each brother, and I’ve been more or less a mother to them, I have no relationship with my eldest brother, he hit me while drugged up and after years of abuse from him and me having to being his daughter (my niece up) and ungrateful I had enough and cut contact with him, while my mother ignored all the bad things he did to me, she would text me not to call to the house as he was having dinner there,
I’m wondering why alcoholic mothers give abuse to the daughters more,
This is the situation now, after years of blanking her out of my life we are back talking she had breast cancer grade 4 so I felt it was time to talk to her, but I made sure first to get rid of any hatred I had over her drinking vodka and what she had done,
When I first walked in and seen her I broke down, she was tiny and frail and looked awful but she said it was cos of the cancer, and she beat it, and then admitted to being an alcoholic and asked me to help her quit, so I felt id started talking to her at the right time as maybe just maybe I could feel what it would be like to have a mother, I have to admit I felt excited about the future, she stayed off vodka for several weeks and it was amazing those 7 weeks, she remembered things I told her for the first time since I was 21 !,
But that was short lived, she went back to the vodka, my 40th birthday not only did she forget but she also ruined the day by messaging me drunk at 11am, I stayed in bed miserable the whole day,
She then asked me to take her to the doctors to get help which I did, I couldn’t believe the doctor said “don’t stop drinking it will kill you” I felt those emotions well up again and screamed at him “are you mad u just told an alcoholic to keep drinking that’s music to her ears” I could even see and feel her happiness !!
On the way home she made me stop at the shop for her to buy vodka (I’ve never bought it and never will that’s one thing she will never ask me because she knows I will NOT)
We then had an appointment with drug and alcohol group who said she needed to cut down to half a bottle of vodka each day (she lied to them saying she drunk well over a litre because she knew she wouldn’t have to cut back lots in the beginning),
She did start off cutting down not a lot but a bit, and then she would have what she says is “I’ve had a terrible day so I drunk myself into oblivion” meaning she had a 2 day streak of nonstop drinking,
So now I’m left with her not even trying when I asked her she said “I can’t I just can’t” even though she knew the drug and alcohol people told her she could have tablets off them when she was down to a quarter bottle and that would stop the cravings, even after they gave me an injection in case my mother took cocodamols too many of them to give it to her if she went into cardiac arrest !
I moved 44 miles away to get away when we weren’t speaking and when we started speaking I wanted to move back there but now I’m glad I didn’t because I can’t handle it
She spends her days in her bedroom and between 2-3pm she starts drinking her vodka, its killing her and she knows it, she can’t eat most days and is constantly being sick, she still says the same thing like yesterday when I went there and seen how awful she looked again she said “this awful cold is back I’m being sick etc. etc.” and I’m ” NO its the vodka” she still makes excuses to the rest of the house,
My youngest brother is stuck living there and sleeps on the sofa because he can’t sleep in the bedroom upstairs because she moans if he coughs when he is downstairs sleeping, so he said he would end up being too paranoid to move,
The house is just a war zone my brothers suffers from schizophrenia and has bursts of complete anger and screams abuse and smashes up things, he lets things get so deep emotionally cos it’s all about my mum and dad he tries to be there for them and its making him ill,
I’ve tried so many times to tell them that she won’t live long if she carries on in the hope that they both get together and stop her drinking, stop giving it to her, but they live in denial and I feel like I’m the one who is delivering the negative news they don’t want to hear, point is I KNOW it’s coming I know that when it happens the both of them will be “I should have done this and I should have done that” so that’s why I try telling them but it gets swept away under the carpet,
My dad tip toes around my mother so she continues to treat him like crap and when he does stand up for himself and screams back my brother will stand up for my mother,
They all think I’m being too harsh when I don’t want to go upstairs and talk to her, when I go up she hides these marks all up her arms (they look like bruises but she hasn’t hit herself the doctor said it’s because of the drink),
Her body won’t be able to keep fighting off infection, and she is about 6 and half stone, and is at the moment all happy cos she is going away with her friend to jersey for 2 days, when reality is just a few days ago she went to the hairdressers in a taxi and fell when she walked in (she’s that frail) yet no one has said anything about how she is going to cope going away for 2 days
I just don’t know what else to do, what will make her wake up I’m so desperately unhappy and lay in bed all day myself just waiting for the call to say she is dead .
I’m 40 and childless, suffered with depression all my life, I keep everyone at arm’s length and I never admit to anyone I need help, I’ll just deal with it,
I’m still confused to whether the horrific life events that’s happened and by me not getting help from a psychiatrist etc. is still a problem like my partner dying in a motorcycle accident I couldn’t understand how he could stand beside me and within an hour I was standing over him in a morgue and looking at this body (which I won’t type what sort of injuries I seen, it still haunts me) etc. I didn’t go to my house I had by my mother’s for 2 weeks I just stayed in our bedroom at his parents farm and when I did decide to go back I walked into my mother’s a complete zombie and just wanted my mother to hug me and tell me it would be okay and make me get help instead she was drunk and when I burst into tears sobbing “what’s happening help me” she replied “I’ve been through worse don’t worry about it”,
Whilst living by my parents (I had a house by hers for 16 years) I even hid the fact I had a violent partner whom I married, it’s as if I knew not to bother telling my mother, then one day I was giving a lift to my dad and we got into the car and the police were called to my house the few days previous and I asked them to take my partner out of my house and he went to stay in his mums across the road, he came running down and I started my car panicking and reversed down the road FAST while my dad was shouting “what are you doing” and all I could say was “you don’t understand what he’s like”, at the bottom of the road I managed to reverse around a corner but he caught up with us and flew over my bonnet of my car and began punching the window I managed to persuade him to let me pull up to the curb but then sped off to my mothers and run inside and called 999 while my mother was slurring “for Christ sake stop making a drama will you”, I was a shaking mess as I believed he would kill me because he would take a LOT of prescription medication so I knew he was capable of doing it, I lived in constant fear for 2 years and that still affected me and still does.
I’m now in a loving relationship and have been for 5 years, he’s brilliant, but I still keep him at arm’s length, I just don’t confide in anyone because I think I will just drag them down to feel as awful as I do, I wake up miserable every day and go to sleep feeling the same, I don’t get out of bed most days, I really do want a child now more than anything and I hope it does happen it’s doubtful but I still hope,
Why do I find it so hard to just live in a moment of happiness ? I feel guilty for feeling it and give myself a 1000 reasons not to be happy, I ALWAYS help others and have done all my life and a friend I have in America once told me, you help so many others and forget about your own life, I would love to run my own business I have ideas but I’m so depressed and can’t see a way out, I’ve tried anti-depressants but the side effects were horrible and I never felt any better, I don’t like to live past pains and to me there are more people who have suffered a lot worse so I try and blank it,
I’ll NEVER drink alcohol I know a lot of people who have had alcoholic parents tend to drink themselves but I couldn’t the very thought of vodka makes me want to vomit, I’d love to foster children, I’m natural with kids and I relate to them, I would love to help some kids not to take things they suffered in childhood with them into adulthood, but first I need to get happy myself before thinking about bringing up a child, but time is ticking
+- Having just been listening to Woman’s Hour (Gwen)
Having just been listening to Woman’s Hour, and then searched for information and found the NACOA website, I send these few paragraphs in case they might echo other people’s experience. As you can see from what I’ve written, the ‘after-effects’ of growing up with an alcoholic parent are many and affect more than just the ‘adult child’ who grew up in that environment!
“My husband’s father was an alcoholic. Although my husband is in his 60s now, I have really only become aware recently that quite a few of his problematic behaviour patterns are probably to do with his experiences as the child and teenager of an (violent) alcoholic father. And watching, or listening to, his mother being assaulted by her husband, his father, from a very early age. Not to mention serious social isolation at times and discovering that no other adult was able or willing to acknowledge the fact that Tom’s (not my husband’s real name) family was dysfunctional and to then do something about it. He learnt early that they were on their own, there was no-one to protect him or his Mum.
Although Tom is very successful in his field, is not an alcoholic (nor are any of our children), is very responsible, has been (and is still) a very good father to his children, has been (mostly) a good partner to me – there are, and have always been, problems. Mostly it’s his need for control, his workaholic ‘nature’, his, sometimes almost pathological, need to anticipate outcomes / the future, his tendency to disproportionate anger and his verbal and psychological aggression (with physical aggression strictly under control but the threat of it is very often ‘in the air’).
Tom has never had any counselling or therapy and still finds it almost impossible to talk about parts of his childhood and what he, his younger siblings and mother experienced. Since we met before his parents died, I did experience the family dysfunction myself for a few years and I found it devastating and very frightening – even though by then I was a (young) independent adult and so was Tom. So it’s not that we can’t talk about it but there are many ‘no go’ areas – and also, as I mentioned above, the on-going behavioural issues that Tom has that I’m finding increasingly hard to tolerate and which he finds very difficult to acknowledge.
So far, the only ‘help’ that anyone has had, has been me going to see a therapist! Which has indeed helped me but has not, on the whole, made much difference to Tom, though it must be said that he does not think he needs any help! Perhaps 2017 will be different.”
+- I had a happy childhood until I first realised my dad was an alcoholic around the age of 12. (Melissa)
I had recently started secondary school at a local girl’s grammar in south east London and my dad had been made redundant. I think my dad had been made redundant before and so I believe this is what triggered his depression and excessive drinking, although now speaking to members of my family who have known dad since he was a young man, it is clear he has always been a heavy drinker.
I remember waking up to go to school and not knowing whether dad would be asleep drunk in the kitchen or okay in bed. This became a regular occurrence with dad staying up most nights drinking, playing loud music, doing ridiculous jobs like cutting up wood for the fire with a chain saw when he was drunk and basically keeping the family awake. One evening he was standing on the work surface changing a light bulb drunk and he fell off and cracked his head open and we had to call an ambulance. Somehow for a time he managed to hold down a job, but by the time I was about 17 he gave up working to take what was I guess, early retirement, at the age of about 56. This was a bad idea as it meant he was now at home every day and as he has few hobbies, other than drinking, he began to drink pretty- much 24 hours a day. I would wake up and find him drinking in the morning. I would open cupboards and find bottles of wine or cans of gin and tonic hidden in boots or behind things.
I grew up very quickly as dad’s alcoholism was a family secret. My mum didn’t share the problem with the wider family or her friends and my eldest brother who is 6 years my senior moved away to university at the age of 18 and stayed away for 5 years because why would he want to return to family life the way it was? My other older brother, 4 years my senior, was old enough to take himself away from the family home and spend most of his time with his friends because why would he too want to be at home? I was too young to be able to be this independent though and my mum leant on me a lot for support because no one else knew about dad’s drinking, although our wider family had their suspicions.
Looking back I think I spent my teenage years as quite an anxious youth. I was too embarrassed to bring my friends back to my house but I was lucky, I had a good circle of friends and one good friend in particular whose house I would go to sleepovers for etc. Looking back now I wish I had spoken to teachers at school or my friends and their parents as I know they would have been able to help, and it would have been therapeutic for me to have shared my worries with other people who I was confident talking to.
At 18 I wrote a letter to 2 of my aunties and told them about dad’s drinking which certainly helped as now the wider family were able to support us. I entered a relationship with someone 7 years my senior, looking for that father figure and someone to look after me because my father hadn’t been there to do that. Out of my family I think I have tried to help dad and be pro-active because I realise that he is ill, that he does not choose to be an alcoholic. I have been to AlAnon; counselling for family members of alcoholics. I have taken him to the doctors, found AA groups in the local area for him to go to, but as much as I try to help him and as frustrated as I get because he doesn’t get help, I have realised he is the only one who can choose to help himself.
I am now 30 and wow, so much has happened in my life – and most hugely positive! Don’t get me wrong, there have been times in my life where I have felt very low. Lonely, angry and depressed, frustrated that MY dad is an alcoholic. Like most people I have things about me which I don’t like.
Addictive traits I have inherited like OCD with tidiness or the amount I eat. Over reacting when changes happen that I have not expected or have no control over. Excessively self-critical. Things, since reading the effects of living with an alcoholic parent on the Nacoa website, I realise are a result of growing up with an alcoholic parent.
However, I am beginning to learn they are part of me and that there is a reason that I am the way I am and actually I am a pretty good, kind, successful person who has a lot to be proud of and who has achieved a great deal when perhaps my life could have turned out the opposite.
I am in a healthy relationship with the most amazing man, 2 years senior and I have never been happier. It took me until the end of my twenties to find myself I think, because for so long I had put others first. I was brave and bold and realised who I was, what I wanted in life and that for so long my father’s alcoholism had carved my life and determined my life choices.
Towards the end of my twenties I realised that I wasn’t happy with a lot in my life – my relationship and my job and that both these things had really happened because of my dad’s drinking. However, I also recognised that it wasn’t healthy or necessarily right to blame my unhappiness in my life on my dad and that in the end I am now an adult and am the only one in control of my life and the one who can make a change.
As well as a healthy and loving relationship and a great home, I now have a career which I love. I teach music in schools and have my own children’s yoga company. I have grown to be so driven and ambitious so that I don’t have a life full of unhappiness and anxiety that I had when I was a teenager. I have completed an Ironman 70.3 and recently the London marathon! I have a good circle of friends and although my dad is still an alcoholic, and this still does impact my life, I have accepted that this is the way it is and I have to make the most of the family relationships that I do have and that there are people who are far worse off than me. I feel lucky and thankful most days that I have been brave and learnt to make changes and look after myself so that I can be a happy person.
+- If it helps just one person, that is a massive win (Ian)
My Dad was an alcoholic – probably the sole reason my parents split up (he didn’t talk about his problem) in 1993.
I can remember probably the first time I was directly affected – I found him when I was about 7/8 passed out on the family landing, passed out and fitting when it was only me and him in the house.
In 1994 (I was in year 8 at school at this point) he was drink-driving and crashed his car, severely injuring himself. He was never able to work again and never fully recovered.
He died in 2002 through jaundice; his alcoholism stopped him from ever being able to recover. To give you some insight, he was 15 stone and 5’11 before his accident and when he died he was 5’6 and 7 stone.
His mental health suffered due to his alcoholism and I can imagine depression brought on by this. He was heavily reliant on me and used to call me all the time to drive him places, take him to the shops etc.
As you can imagine it made me grow up very swiftly however luckily I have a brilliant Mum who helped me through. Unfortunately my Dad wasn’t the only alcoholic in the family, my cousin died at 44, still living with his parents with no job, in his own bed in 2007.
Due to these circumstances I am always the first to talk about things and as I am an Education Manager I share my experiences with as many as I can including students, with the Mantra that if it helps just one person, that is a massive win. I think many problems especially with regards to mental health can be helped just through talking.
Feeling confused by parents changing when they drink or feeling alcohol takes priority over everything
+- My Mum (Liam)
My Mum was a lovely lady when I was young, always singing, always happy… When I was approaching my teenage years things changed, alcohol was becoming a problem. The one glass of whisky to help her sleep became three or four glasses, bottles of wine were replaced with boxes – and there were always arguments.
During my teenage years, the drinking got heavier, the arguments became more heated and would often end in her being violent (to my older Brother more so than me). Mum would disappear for days at a time, often going to relatives where she could drink as much as she wanted without us telling her to stop. She would return home and we would find ourselves locked out the house with her screaming for us to go away. We would wait for her to leave the house (to go and buy drink) and would get back in, if we couldn’t, we would stay at my Auntie & Uncles house. This was life and it was normal.
When I was 16, Mum disappeared for almost a week, but this time when she came home something was different. I remember her lying on the bed and she told us that she was an alcoholic, which was the only time I heard her say those words. My Brother said it must have been hard for her to say, but I didn’t really understand why, as it was quite obvious.
That night, we took her to hospital and she remained there for a week or so, it was clear by this point that alcohol had completely taken over as she had no idea where she was. When she came home she would talk about events that hadn’t happened, about people that didn’t exist – The only part of her brain that still worked was the part that craved alcohol.
In the 2 years that followed, Mum would still drink, even if we hid money, she found a way to get it… She would wake me in the night to tell me she had taken an overdose, or be downstairs dancing to music full blast. It was difficult to know what sort of night you would get.
Those 2 years were the hardest for me, my Brother had gone to university and he was the only person who really knew what it was like and all of a sudden I was by myself. I would stay away from home as much as I could, I was lucky to have family I could stay with. When I was at home I would go straight to my bedroom. I had no idea how to handle the situation, I would punch walls to make my hand bleed and if that didn’t work, I would physically cut my hand, so people could see… This was my way of asking for help, without “asking” for help.
Back then, I believed Mum had made a choice to drink and her actions were a result of that choice and I blamed her for it. Although we lived in the same house, I never spoke to her and I moved out as soon as I was able to, this was hard as I was leaving my Dad behind, but I could not wait to leave.
My Mum was diagnosed with Cancer and passed away when I was 21; I believe it was alcohol that killed her, as physically she would not have survived a common cold after the years of alcohol abuse her body had been through. I had not spoken to her for 3 years…
I very rarely allow myself to think about that period of my life as it fills me with sadness and regret. Regret I did not do more to help myself understand, but more importantly I did not help my Mum. I realise now that it was not her choice. She died believing I didn’t care about her, something I will never be able to change.
I had great support from friends and family when I was growing up and without that I would not have the life I have now – I have built a career, have the most beautiful family and am happy.
I know others are not as lucky to have the same support I had. As I have got older I realise there is no shame to admit things are getting too much and asking for help.
+- And I’ll see you again when it’s time for me (Kerry)
I’ve been thinking about writing about my own experience for some time, but as usual life gets in the way and there’s little time to reflect. I feel now is the time to reflect, and through sore, puffy eyes I’d like to share my story.
We all want an amazing Mum, don’t we? The type of Mum, that when you peruse Mother’s Day cards you want the one that says “Mum, You Are the Absolute Best”. You don’t want to be sifting through cards thinking, oh that’s too much, or, that’s too ironic.
I loved my Mum to the core, we just connected. Everyone said we looked alike and we definitely shared lots of traits. Quirkiness, a dry sense of humour and something which could be positive, but also negative…..we were deep thinkers. We both liked to write and read poetry.
She was attractive, kind, loving, intelligent, and definitely a natural empath. She used to tell me she was a white witch, a good witch.
But then there was the other person. Not my real Mum. The black witch. The alter ego. Consumed by alcohol & mental illness, she could be unpredictable, violent, selfish and emotionally unavailable. Very often found draining a box of wine and being angry at life.
It’s one of those classic stories, born of parents who were both alcohol dependent, she had a troubled childhood and spent time in a children’s home that housed mentally ill patients. Her mother was then murdered when she was 17 years old. I won’t go on too much about her upbringing, as that was her childhood, not mine. But, it does give an insight as to how the seeds were sewn.
I was born in 1980, and my sister came along in 1982. As a very small child Mum did very well for a bit. She had qualified as a nurse, and she and my father ran an elderly people’s home in the early 80’s. I remember she was so sweet and funny, and told us silly rhymes, and gave lovely cuddles.
But it was here it started. I remember she would often disappear for a few days, leaving us with staff, I’d be crying for her in the night and asking where she was. My Nana would often come and pick us up and take us to stay with her.
My parents were going through a separation at this point, I’d be about 5yrs old. I remember being at primary school and she wouldn’t show up to collect us, or she’d send a random friend.
I remember jumping on her bed one Christmas Day morning, my sister and I, jumping and giggling, dressed in matching outfits. Mum “fast asleep” she literally couldn’t be roused. She used to tell us “oh, I could sleep through the fire alarm going off”. I obviously realise now she was just totally out of it, and probably massively hungover.
The disappearing acts continued, she met a few men along the way. There was one guy she met whilst visiting friends in Scotland. He came to stay for a bit whilst we still lived at the residential home. I remember there was a big fight on the lawn outside when my Dad showed up for something. It was a warm day and I was playing outside in my pants! Mum ended up getting involved and her hand got badly injured, blood spraying out all over the place. I was hysterical. She bore the scar on her hand as a reminder all her life, it was strange, it formed the shape of a 2.
And then one day cycling around the block, Mum AWOL again, I saw her car outside a cottage on the high street. I stopped, and with some trepidation I knocked on the door, to my surprise Mum answered.
She had met a new man, in the village. And then things really spiralled out of control…….
I could write a book with all the memories, and I probably will, but for this purpose I’ll point out the things popping into my head now.
Mum had my brother in 1990, followed by my youngest sister in 1994. Through the pregnancy with my brother she appeared to square herself up a little and drank much less. My youngest sister was a different story, and my sister arrived early, with a much lower birth weight than my other 2 siblings. I have always felt extremely responsible towards my young siblings, and I worried about them entering this volatile situation.
My Mum and stepfather both drank, the worse possible combination of people to of met. Initially the local pub was their favourite haunt; we would spend many a weekend sat outside with a bottle of pop and as a “treat”. I could sometimes have an Appetiser…. depending on whether they had their beer and cigarette money. We went through waves of having money, and having nothing. Mum would then send me home from the pub to sort out the younger children whilst she stayed out drinking, embarrassing herself staggering home.
As a young girl I remember the fear of coming in from school, I knew they’d be drunk, but how drunk? Okay drunk? Nasty drunk? Crying drunk? Violent drunk?
The room would be thick with smoke and the smell of Riesling wine or white cider. Sometimes Mum’s booze would be in mugs… because obviously that was tea then, and not alcohol.
I’d always feel anxious and on edge, wondering if that night we’d be lying in bed listening to Elton John or Tina Turner on full volume, or Mum smashing crockery over my stepfather’s head, and him retaliating.
Then there was the mental abuse, telling me I had a big nose, and as a teenager calling me a fat b***h. Some of her favourite quotes were “Life’s a bitch and then you die” or “Life’s a bitch and then you breed one”. We had a fight once, she had got right up in my face, inebriated, and then grabbed me by my trouser belt hooks, she ripped them and ripped my top. I pushed her and she fell over backwards. I felt awful, I’d be about 14 years old, but I was angry and scared.
I remember during one big fight between my Mum and stepfather, he grabbed her hair and swung her around, pulling a bloody chunk of hair from her scalp. I called the police and the police came, as they did a few times, and, as usual she’d sober up and drop any charges. Another time after a drunken fight her ankle got broken. I had 3 weeks off school, caring for her and my siblings…. not long after I moved to my Nana’s house.
If I’m honest, on reflection, I think they (her and my stepfather) were as bad as one another when it came to the drunken violence.
In 1997 I moved out of my Nanas, she had taken me in at 14 to help me get on track again at school. Here I felt calmer and very loved, she was an amazing grandmother. (Unfortunately she was knocked over by a van, and died in December 2000).
It got really bad in 1999, I was living with a close girl-friend. Mum had a car crash, it was not her fault. As far as we know she was sober… a lorry hit her from behind, she was doing the morning school run with my younger siblings. My brother died.
This was however the perfect excuse to complement their lifestyle, especially my stepfather. Understandably consumed by grief, the drinking and fighting got really out of control. My stepfather started on heavy spirits and died a few years later in 2002, at 48 years old. My youngest sister ended up been fostered, but we remained close to our Mum.
All I ever wanted was for her to be “normal”, a happy Mum, the Mum making you a nice teatime treat, or sat down painting with you, supporting you with homework. But this was seldom the case.
When your parent drinks you seem to spend your whole life feeling guilty, overly responsible, anxious, worried, concerned, growing up too fast…… I could go on.
Fast forward lots…….with lots more random and tragic stories in the middle, and…
Luckily over the past year or so she finally got sober, it was great to see. Almost unbelievable, but amazing! I’m so grateful for this time. The best memory I have is my birthday this year. We had a phone conversation and she said “Kerry, my whole life I’d felt so sad and alone and then you were born and I wasn’t sad or alone anymore”. She told me she was proud. It crushed me, and I cried bitter sweet tears all day. That was Mum talking, real Mum.
Unfortunately my Mums sobriety was all too little, and far too late. Years of abuse had taken their toll on her body and caused huge health issues. On Monday, 07/11/16 she passed away in A and E, I won’t go into detail (I’ll save that for the book!) but I was with her. She was 58 years old.
I’m now grieving. Grieving for what could have been, grieving my lovely Mum, grieving the addict, grieving her bipolar illness. We never got to do the girly days out, or happy family gatherings, the lovely photo opportunities. It’s so sad and so raw.
So I want to say RIP Mum, may the demons you’ve carried around all of your life dissipate & be replaced by peace and love within your spirit.
Fly high I miss you xxx
I wrote a poem this week, penned from my emotions.
Mum, Dying to Be Happy
Sometimes a flower
Sometimes a thorn
Sometimes the gold
Sometimes the pawn
Sometimes the sunshine
Sometimes the rain
Sometimes the freedom
Sometimes the chain
Sometimes the light
Sometimes the dark
Sometimes a delight
Sometimes a nark
The ying and yang of mental illness
Stripped you of clarity
Stripped you of wellness
But it didn’t define you for all of your life
There were glimmers of hope
There were glimmers of light
You put the cork in the bottle, for that we were grateful
You lost the inebriation which made you so hateful
You were Mum again, if just for a while
That quirky sense of humour and gentle smile
It was lovely to see you so much calmer
No more shouting No more drama
It was lovely to laugh and reminisce
It was lovely to hug you and give you a kiss
And then that final kiss…….
On your head
For that was it, your human form was dead
But your kind spirit is free!
It’s as free as can be!
A shooting star for eternity
So fly high Mum
Be the flower
Be the gold
Be the sunshine
Be the freedom
Be the light
Be the delight
Be the jovial
Be the happy
Be all those things you were destined to be
And I’ll see you again when it’s time for me
+- I never knew when I came home from school whether she would be sober, drunk or dead. (Matthew)
My mother was an incredible woman, she brought up 2 boys, whilst dealing with her hardest battle of them all, to which eventually she would succumb.
One of my earliest memories was finding vodka bottles hidden around the house. At that age, I had no idea this was not ‘normal’. Throughout my childhood, my brother and I stayed with friends and family, even foster parents who were friends with my mum. My mum was in and out of rehab and hospital, up to 1 year at a time. I always thought/hoped that she would be able to beat this addiction and be able to move forward with her life. Unfortunately, I never got to know my mum when she was sober, the only memories I have are those when she was drinking.
I never knew when I came home from school whether she would be sober, drunk or dead. That was my main concern. I loved my mum so much, but I was frustrated as I couldn’t understand why, if she loved me, she wouldn’t just stop drinking. This was my thought process within my young and ignorant viewpoint.
My mum was in and out of hospital and rehab throughout my young life, however, after I turned 18 and a week prior to heading to university, my mum deteriorated. I called an ambulance and went to hospital with her. I sat by my mum’s side in the hospital, like I had done a number of times previous, but this time it was different, I knew it and my mum knew it. She looked me in the eyes and told me to tell everyone that she loved them. At that point, the doctor ushered me away and that was the last time I saw my mum alive, she died moments later.
I was heartbroken, but there was also a part of me that was relief, she was no longer in pain and struggling with her addiction and as strange as it sounds, I found comfort in that. I still went to university but I didn’t deal with my loss very well. My weight ballooned and my relationship with alcohol was heading in a similar direction to my mothers, I was using it to block out my emotion pain and heartache I was feeling.
However, I made a conscious decision to change, I discovered fitness and started go to the gym regularly. In my third year of university I found out I was going to be a father which really provided me with the focus I needed in life. There was not a chance I would let my son have a childhood like mine.
Fast forward a good few years and I’m now a father to an amazing son who’s about to be a teenager himself. I am the director of my own company and have successful career, I have a beautiful fiancé and I’ve achieved another goal which was to compete in a fitness competition.
I have a great relationship with alcohol, I love a glass of wine at the weekend, or a beer with my friends.
NACOA is such a great charity, I wish I had this option when I was younger. My childhood experiences have made me who I am. I’m more than happy to pass on my thoughts and life experiences with anyone, I’m here to talk but more importantly, I’m here to listen.
Feeling frightened or anxious and hearing parents argue or fight
+- My Story (Suzannah)
My name is Suzannah and I’m the adult child of an alcoholic. My dad died from alcohol related illness and complications, alone in hospital, when I was 26. He was just 50 years old.
I was born in 1973 and can only remember snippets of my sober dad. That man feels like a stranger to me now, which makes me feel sad.
What I CAN remember about my sober dad is that he was quiet and hardworking. He loved crossword puzzles and growing vegetables. He was funny too, and liked to make people laugh.
When he drank, he changed. I remember my mum describing him as a Jekyll and Hyde character; I’d say that was accurate.
Alcoholics are very good at hiding their illness and for most of my childhood he was a functioning alcoholic. He worked hard in his day job (although I do remember my mum phoning in sick for him a few times, because he was too hungover to go in) and he also did gardening jobs for older people around the village we lived in. He went to the pub for ‘one or two’ pints most evenings.
Everyone else saw my dad as the joker; the guy always up for a laugh. The man who deserved to drink his beer. He worked hard and had 4 children to support.
But I saw a different character.
I saw the monster.
He often became angry and aggressive when he drank and would suddenly become very animated, almost like a thunderbolt of anger hit him, which made him immediately react. He’d jump up and start ranting about something or other.
He’d like to hold a ‘weapon’ which usually came in the form of a pick axe handle. There were lots of holes in our walls where he’d punched though in a fit of anger.
I found it hard to be a child in this environment and I’d often take over the role of being a mini mum to my younger siblings, especially when we were left at home alone because both mum and dad had gone to the pub.
Mum found it hard to keep encouraging him not to drink and I think that life felt more exciting for them both when they drank.
They had me when they were quite young, so found the pub an escape from the mundane of parenting, bills and other responsibilities. They turned into party people and would invite people (often strangers) back to our home when the pubs closed. I remember not being able to sleep because of the thumping noise of music. I’d put my hands over my ears and just lay in bed crying because I was so tired.
Unsurprisingly, we didn’t have much money because booze is expensive. Dad used to break into the electric meters to get money out for food and more alcohol.
He scared me. I’d seen horror films from a young age and had watched The Shining. My dad chased after me in a nightmare one night, and he was Jack Nicholson’s character in the snowy maze. I woke up in a cold sweat, terrified.
It feels weird saying it now because he’s my dad and he’s dead, but I did actually feel like I hated him at the time, especially as I started becoming more aware of his drinking. I wanted my mum to leave him. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t stop, for us. As an adult, I understand why he drank and forgive him. I miss not having a dad to share my adult life with.
Needless to say the impact on my brothers and I has been huge. I think we’ve all used alcohol as an emotional crutch at times.
I’ve struggled with my feelings about my childhood and still do. The pain never goes away but as I’m growing older and learning more about self-development; I feel more aware of my impact in the world and I want to be able to help children who live with an alcoholic parent understand that they too are important. They are valued and they have a voice.
I’ve gone on to marry and have my own children. I’ve started my own business and live a happy life by the sea.
For the most part, I manage my anxiety pretty well but I do need to keep my mental health in check; the residue from a difficult childhood is still present, but I see it as a strength, not a weakness.
+- “Dread” & “The Disturbed Night” (Priyanka)
I wish I had the words to say
How scared I was to come home everyday
Would it be me? Would it be mum?
Oh, how I wish I had a gun
To end you? No, but to end me
Damn, put me out of my misery
The Disturbed Nights
She hurried and turned the lights off
In case he knew she was awake
He would storm into her room like an earthquake
Hiding under the sheets as shelter
Hoping it would protect her from the unexpected stormy weather
Scared and lonely is what she feels
Closed eyes and ears as her only shields
From the words of abuse that derived from the storm
+- I had to be both mum and dad in the house (Leigh)
I don’t really have any one memory of when I first realised mum was drunk. I was too young to pinpoint a specific time or place. I think I was aged about 10 or 11. My dad used to work week on, week off which meant that he wouldn’t be in the house for long periods of time. I now know that’s when mum first started to drink. When he came back everything erupted, I used to lie on the floor of my bedroom and listen to mum and dad arguing for hours and hours, almost the entire time he was back.
I thought my bedroom was the only safe place I had until mum used to invade it drunk and I would have to sit there and listen to the same words coming out of her mouth over and over again. It was like a conversation stuck on repeat. I would get blamed for everything. I would be told it wasn’t my fault, then I would be blamed again.
My parents finally divorced and I was given a choice (as I was old enough by then). Stay with mum in the family home or move with dad and my younger sisters to my nans. I chose to stay with mum. Looking back I am not sure if that was the right decision or not, I had some really awful times with her during that period but then I didn’t want to leave her. I remember her wetting herself in front of me. I remember picking her up off the bathroom floor. I remember dressing her and feeding her.
My sisters returned to live with us but mum was still drinking and so I had to be both mum and dad in the house now. I cooked the meals, took my sisters to school, cleaned and even went out and brought mums alcohol for her. I realised that pouring it down the sink just made her worse. That period was awful, we were evicted several times and even lived out of a friends van.
The thing that made me the most angry and frustrated was the fact that I felt helpless. Everyone kept telling me ‘she needs to help herself’ but she wouldn’t get the help. I would ring the doctors, the mental health team, the drug and alcohol service but everyone’s answer was always the same ‘there is nothing we can do to help until she wants to be helped’. Looking back now I know it wasn’t my responsibility but at the time I thought I had to find all of the answers.
It was after school drama club that gave me a reason to get out of the house, I could stay away from mum for at least another two hours after school finished and it was a safe place where I could finally relax. On stage I could be someone else and I really enjoyed performing.
Moving away to university was what saved me, literally. Making the tough decision to leave mum was the best thing that could have happened for the both of us. Whilst at University I found a way to express what had happened. I studied drama and was able to use that to explore my childhood story.
I am now pleased to say mum has been seeking help and is doing really well. I created an autobiographical show about my childhood which is toured the UK. Mum and dad came to see it and afterwards shared the first civil conversation they have had between each other for many years.
Feeling embarrassed, guilty or ashamed or less important than other people
+- Trying to usher my friends out as quickly as possible as they giggled at my drunken parents (Rebecca)
At the age of about 4 I idolised my dad, every day he’d return from work and we would take a little walk to the shop. As we walked he would hold my small hand within his and we’d chat away, mostly I recall it would be me counting down the days to my next birthday. The sky was dark and the weather cold but all I remember was a sense of warmth, being with my big tall dad and just chatting happily.
Every evening we’d reach the shop and he would buy me a bottle of pop and himself a bottle of gin. To me at the unassuming age of four, this was normal. I didn’t think anything strange at buying a bottle of gin every day. As I got older my dad’s drink of choice changed to vodka. It was between the ages of 7 and 10 that I remember the first feelings of embarrassment at seeing my dad and often my mum too, drunk during the afternoon on a weekend. I can still feel that sense of dread at coming in from playing outside with a friend to see both my parents slouched on the sofa merrily slurring their words not able to string a coherent sentence together, trying to usher my friend out as quickly as possible as they giggled at my drunken parents.
My parents continued to drink, but my dad had that hunger for his next drop, even at the age of 11 we would still walk to the shop together where he would buy a bottle of vodka nicely wrapped up in paper placed in a bag with 4 cans of beer. His problem with alcohol became most apparent to me after my parents separated. I guess I was older and was starting to gain a wider understanding of the world so could understand the issues more clearly. I really did love my dad and would look forward to my weekend visits to London to see him. On one visit I could tell he was at a loss at how to entertain a 13 year old girl so he brought City Limits to see what was on in the area. We ended up going to see The Rocky Horror Show. Neither of us knew what to expect. I could sense his discomfort as he sat beside me as Frank’n’Furter strutted across stage wiggling his hips singing ‘in just seven days, I’m gonna make you a man’. The show was amazing and we both had a giggle about it. That is a really happy memory for me, sharing the excitement of a live stage show with my dad.
On one of my next visits to London to see my dad he didn’t show up at our meeting place and I can remember my mum’s anger, she repeatedly tried calling him but there was no answer. I was so disappointed, but also worried. Where was he, what had happened? We stayed the night with my mum’s friend and the following morning my mum took me to my dad’s flat. She didn’t give up on ringing his doorbell until he answered. How long we were there I can’t remember. Eventually he came to the door and let us in. The smell as the door opened was rancid. I’d never seen mess like it before, rubbish everywhere, knee high. I remember going into the kitchen to find a sink full of filthy mouldy dishes piled as high as you could imagine. This to me was his lowest point. He looked broken, washed out, ashen, and incoherent. My mum insisted that he wash and meet us in an hours’ time at the pub down the road. In retrospect not the best meeting place for an alcoholic but maybe my mum thought that might motivate him to meet us. I was so devastated to see my dad at such a low point. I can’t remember much more other than him meeting us and having a pint. My mum didn’t leave me with him, she took me home and called his parents and sisters and told them how low a point he was at. His family came to clear his flat and move him up to North Wales to live with his parents so they could care for him.
On my first visit to see him once he’d moved, I remember the feelings of excitement at seeing my dad again, but also worry at not knowing what to expect. He was drunk! I remember sitting in the garden with him and my Namps (Grandad), it was a beautiful clear summers day, the weather warm with a gentle breeze, we sat in the garden and my dad looked up to the sky and started laughing, ‘there’s a pig in the sky Becca look up there, it’s flying’, my lovely Namps just gently said, ‘pull yourself together Tony’.
On another visit I remember my dad being so drunk, my aunt who was also visiting pulling him aside and saying you need to sort this out, Becca doesn’t visit often this is your time with her, you have 24 hours to sort yourself out. The next day they took me to the mountain zoo and we had a lovely day, while my dad tried to sober up. My dad tried so hard not to drink while I was there and I know he found it hard and I’m sure he secretly gave in to his demons. He couldn’t sleep at night so would be found in the kitchen pottering around making himself beans on toast. The kitchen was always a mess in the morning from his nightly feasts.
Sadly my grandparents passed away and my dad moved into a flat on his own. I spoke to my dad often on the phone and he would sometimes visit me. As I got older I found it harder and harder to deal with his problems and for some time I turned my back on him. This makes me feel so selfish and sad, if I’d been there for him could he have battled his demons head on? When I was 21 I got in contact with my dad and made plans to see him again. I was so excited at rebuilding our relationship and hoped that perhaps we could fight his addiction together. Heartbreakingly he died before I saw him . He was found dead by the police after his aunt had tried contacting him with no answer. He had an abyss on his liver.
The pain at hearing my dad had died was immeasurable, my world stopped but the world continued to turn. It will be twenty years since he died next year and I still miss and think of him regularly now.
RIP Dad xxxx